June 30, 2010

Historical Probability

A common but very odd statement (about odds) was repeated on James McGrath's blog today. Quote: "Historians do not have access to H. G. Wells's time machine. We cannot know what occurred in the past and thus do not dogmatize about  it. We deal only in probabilities." (Click for source.) In some quarters of Biblical Studies, this is an all too common assertion. It's also incredibly wrong.

First of all, for a position so set against dogma, it's third sentence itself is extremely dogmatic. "We deal only in probabilities."  I reply, "Says who?" and "As if."  In practice, historians deal in judgment, analysis and reconstruction. Probability is only one aspect of the judgment factor. A researcher collects evidence, determines whether that evidence is worthy to admit into her considerations, and then proceeds.

Probability does not exclusively govern the weighing of evidence.

Second of all, it is actually true that we *can* often know what occurred in the past. Relatively. (Because time is.. you know.) We know a lot about AD 2009, for example. We know less about 0009 BC, but we take what we're given and put details together the best that we can. True, many of those details will not be certain, and others will be, but no calculations can tell us that something did or did not happen, absolutely.

"Probability" doesn't do much to tell us whether Tiberius Caesar walked on foot through the Alps, leading his brother's body to Rome. It sounds incredible. It seems unlikely that someone would actually do that. Only Suetonius tells us this detail. Thus, probability suggests the claim may be untrue. Yet, it may just have happened.

Mathematically, "the more probable event" only occurs between 50 and 100 percent of the time. That leaves an awful lot of room left over for the less probable. The British defeat of the Spanish Armada seems unlikely, until you learn more of the facts. But we have so little data. So, then, we acknowledge the unknown unknowns. Something one might not have considered - or could not have calculated - can sometimes explain everything, reversing probability in its farthest extremes.

Fact: Historians cannot and do not restrict themselves "only" to what seems more probable.

For better and/or for worse, this game is far less scientific than some would have you believe.

Did Satan teleport Jesus?

Up high, to the "pinnacle" of the Temple?  IF "pinnacle" was in Mt.4:5 or Lk.4:9, I might believe it.  How else could the two of them even get to the roof!?!  But "pinnacle" is not in these scriptures.  Therefore, I don't find it necessary to conclude either Satan or Jesus ever stood on Jerusalem's roof.  But then, what did they do?

Early English translators, perhaps playing to the high drama in the passage, transliterated the Vulgate ("pinnaculum") in rendering πτερύγιον as "pinnacle".  The Liddell & Scott Lexicon suggests this, however, for pterugion:  "in a building, turret or battlement, or (as others) pointed roof, peak, Ev.Luc.4.9".  Now, let's bookmark 'turret or battlement' for a moment so I can fuss about 'Ev.Luc'.

I don't like when L&S cite obscure NT usage to illustrate supposedly unique meanings, especially when it appears they're trying to apologize for a conventional translation.  (See here and here for more examples.)  I suppose we might say that Jerusalem's (so far as we know) flat-roofed Temple could still have a "pinnacle", but it had no "point" or "peak", so what are L&S playing at?  By the way, when Jerome wrote the Vulgate, circa 400 AD, virtually all temples DID had pointy roofs.  Thus, pinnaculum?  I'll bet that was part of it.

Regardless of roof shape, L&S did their other work well.  The root of 'pterugion' meant the wing of a bird or the fins of a fish (including dorsal along with the side fins, apparently).  In humans, it could refer to the shoulder blade.  So - Vulgate aside - while it looks like 'pterugion' could refer to the top of Jerusalem's Temple, it seems more likely to imagine two people gaining access to and then standing atop the side parapets, the defensive positions around inner and outer courts, or perhaps even the Fortress Antonia, adjoining the Temple's north side, with its commanding view of the city and Temple courts, both.

Both Matthew & Luke use the phrase πτερύγιον τοῦ ἱεροῦ, the last word of which refers to the Temple precincts as well as the sanctuary.  Thus, if these dramatic accounts of Satan leading/taking* the Lord up to Mount Zion is to be taken as an actual historical event, we do not have to imagine they 'beamed' their way to an otherwise unreachable height.  To the contrary, all that reason demands of this passage is to suppose that Jesus walked up to the Temple, and got up on one of the much more easily accessible positions.

Next:  Did the Devil give Jesus a vision from way up high?

* [Update: Matthew uses παραλαμβάνω as "take" twice in this passage, as well as 14 other times, 12 of which are clearly for physical travel. The other two (24:40,41) are thought by some to refer to the rapture, but that interpretation is extremely doubtful.

June 29, 2010

The Progressive Publication of Matthew

This upcoming title suggests Matthew published a collection of documents long before Matthew compiled it all and redrafted a new, expanded composition. (H/T, CJ)  Personally, I think that sounds like a positively brilliant bit of new & worthwhile Synoptic theory... if I do say so myself.

But seriously... even if I could say I'd thought of something like that before, (which I both had and hadn't, precisely), I'm glad somebody knew how to take it as far as it's now being taken.  Most of all, I'm thrilled to see more developmental (4-D) thinking going into these kinds of studies.

I strongly suspect B. Ward Powers is onto something.  Matthew probably was first... before he was last.


[Update:  It'll be available October 1st.]

Did Jesus really debate Satan?

Sure.  The real question is, did the devil talk back?  Or first?  For starters, let's go over why I think Matthew and Luke really expect us to believe that he did.  Then we'll discuss whether _I_ think he did.

Luke's description of Zechariah & Gabriel (and Mary & Gabriel) sets us up to read Jesus as audibly hearing the devil in just the same way.  In contrast, Matthew's first three chapters always have God and his angels speaking through dreams (to Joseph & the Magi).  However, just three verses after God speaks audibly to Jesus at his baptism, the Devil starts talking as well.  Surely, therefore, Matthew also expects us to read this passage as an actual verbal exchange.

Elsewhere in both Gospels, we find Jesus speaking to demons through their human hosts, and we could easily imagine that could be how Satan interacted with Jesus as well... that he possessed someone and strolled out into the desert.  That could have been what happened... but that's not what the Gospels are telling us.  

Some accept Mark's bare bones account as 'the historical version' and suggest Matthew/Luke has embellished creatively on what must have been nothing more than inner temptations within Jesus' own conscience... that Jesus (and/or Mt & Lk) merely imagined precise words to match with the devil's temptations.  That's a believable scenario... but that's not what these Gospels are giving us.

Since Luke presents Gabriel as speaking audibly and both writers present God as speaking audibly, we have no reason to expect their presentation of Satan speaking audibly* should suddenly be meant as anything but an actual occurrence.

Accepting that it truly *WAS* an actual occurrence, on the other hand, is simply a matter of personal faith.

So, do _I_ think the devil and Jesus had a debate?  Sure I do.  Why?  Why shouldn't I?  (How's that for a scientific analysis!?!)

Next:  Did the Devil Teleport with Jesus?

*One more, um, technical point.  I'm not looking to gain experience in spooky areas, here, but I have no knowledge to suggest HOW angels would make physical sound waves pass through air without having physical lips, teeth or vocal chords.  Maybe they become audible the same way they become visible - which is, by some unfathomable method!  Otherwise, if what *really* happened was some form of 'loud' mental telepathy, I don't know how we'd be able to consider that different from audible speaking.  But we don't know that persons listening would be able to distinguish it, either.  So, moot point.

June 28, 2010

The Temple Cleansing(s?) and "46 years"

From John 2:13 through 4:3, Jesus visits Judea. The Gospel writer is pretty clear in purporting this much, at least: Jesus went to the Passover, lingered in the countryside, and returned to Galilee by going through Samaria. Now, it is well known that many critics refute the 'first' temple cleansing of 2:14-21 as unhistorical, as implausible, and/or as theological redaction. Personally, I find two cleansings perfectly plausible, but I'll go with the critics for the sake of this argument. And here is my argument:

The Synoptic cleansing, during the Lord's passion week, can only challenge the historicity of 2:14-21, because the larger passage still attests one lengthy trip to Judea. For a critic, this leaves two ways of dealing with '46 years' at John 2:20.

(1) If the Gospel writer had some literary or theological purpose for purposely relocating the cleansing episode, then the embedded data point about Herod's Temple still belongs to the season of 2:13-4:3, because the statement was located there editorially, and knowingly linked to that particular time in Judea. In such a case, the '46 years' would qualify as John's testimony about when Jesus' ministry should be located in time. (Dating that reference precisely is a whole other issue.)

(2) If the statement in John 2:20 was a historical utterance which actually belonged to some other time (and/or place), the Gospel writer has simply erred - or was attempting to falsify the chronology. In either such case, the embedded data cannot be trusted at all.

Thus, if John's Temple cleansing was relocated deliberately (for theological and/or literary reasons) the chronological data ('46 years') still applies editorially to the season of John 2:13ff. In other words, this datum should only be ignored if we believe the writer was simply mistaken, or if we believe John had chronological axes to grind.

To sum up:  the judgment that there was only one Temple cleansing doesn't necessarily affect our use of John 2:20 towards dating the start of Jesus' public ministry.

June 27, 2010

Allison on Jesus' Wilderness Temptations

Dale Allison remains my favorite 'skeptic'. Reading him just makes my brain happy. Not my faith, necessarily.  But oh my goodness, he's sharp.  Consider these lines on Jesus' wilderness temptations:
Like Origen long ago, many modern scholars have judged this story [Mt.4:1-11 & Lk 4:1-13] to be unhistorical. I think that they are right: the dramatic temptation story is a haggadic fiction produced through reflection upon Scripture. Yet whoever first told the tale did so in the knowledge that Jesus (i) was a miracle worker, (ii) refused to give self-authenticating signs, (iii) thought himself victorious over demonic forces, (iv) could quote the Bible, (v) had faith in God, and (vi) associated his ministry with God's Spirit. --Dale Allison, Seeking the Identity of Jesus, p.70, Richard Hays & Beverly Gaventa, Eds
What I love: Allison's historical method works through critical minded analysis to affirm positive characteristics of Jesus as the Gospels themselves present Him, elsewhere.  What I don't love:  if Jesus "thought himself victorious over demonic forces", but wasn't, then we have a deluded Jesus as well as deluded or deceptive witnesses informing the earliest 'Jesus traditions'.  And how much is supposedly fiction?  Dale keeps using the 'F' word as the passage goes on:
So the temptation narrative, which recounts events that probably never happened, nonetheless rightly catches Jesus in several respects. It accordingly illustrates the obvious fact that fiction need not be pure fiction, that fiction can indeed preserve the past, so that the line between the two can be indistinct.
Again, as far as skeptics go, this is brilliant stuff, and I like Dale's positive attitude.  On the other hand, I don't know how anybody will ever have grounds to declare that fantastic events "probably never happened".  YES, it's a moralizing, haggadic passage that mirrors debate common among Jews at that time.  That doesn't mean Satan didn't engage Jesus in such a style, or that the drama was more trumped up than historical.  YES, these accounts are incredible, but that doesn't automatically make them un-credible.

What I do appreciate, however, is the challenge Dale prompts in myself.  Sure, I can easily make opposing assertions, but what do I really think Matthew and Luke intended their readers to take from this story?  More importantly, does what I think have any historical credibility at all?

Let's find out.

Stay tuned...

June 26, 2010

Hobgoblin Comp's vs. Hypocritical Egal's

Call me the idealist here, but egalitarians protesting that women should be accepted as clergy strike me a bit like 19th century Abolitionists demanding that African-Americans be accepted as plantation owners.  Can't a few black folks own slaves, too?  Seriously.  My problem with Egal-ism in theory is that 'equality' only applies in the abstract, but my problem with Egal-ism in practice is that egalitarians often aren't egalitarian.

Meanwhile - on the other side of this pendulum's terrible pit - authoritarian ministers who promote the subordination of women are shrewdly entrenching their own hierarchical power.  Co-opt the guys with complete domestic power and their little minds will demand they support the complete ecclesiastical power of their superiors.  In that much, at least Complimentarians are consistent.  But consistency, as they say...  well, you know.

Obviously, I'm generalizing.  I love to do that when blogging about gender issues, but I try never to do that when interacting with individuals I actually know.  If we all followed that rule, I suspect we'd neither be Comp's nor Egal's.  We'd just be whatever we are.  Of course, it's being ourselves TOGETHER that's always the challenge.

Ah, togetherness.  In a marriage, no matter who wears the pants, the key issue is sacrifice vs. abuse - are two people taking care of each other or vying for control?  Likewise, in Christian community, we face that same issue within a much more complicated arrangement.  What should churches really enact, to find corporate direction?  Hierarchicalism is a rook but Equality-ism is a sham.  We shouldn't rule over each other, but we don't share equal talents.  Again, what else might actually be done?

As I said above, maybe I'm the idealist here, but I wish every new church could get born to a small group of firm but nurturing parents.  Children need someone to train them up, urge them on, back the heck off, and yet stay close enough to offer more help when help's needed.  Jesus did that in Galilee & Judea.  Paul did that in lots of places.  But clergy, as clergy exists today, almost never does that.  At least, not to my knowledge.  (Enlighten me, if you disagree.)

Anyway, that's why I don't care for women who want to be* clergy OR for men who promote domineering authority.  I can't find either one anywhere in the New Testament.  I know.  Now I *am* the idealist!

Update: In case it's unclear, I love seeing women lead and exercise talent. My problem is the clergy-laity system as a whole.

June 25, 2010

Have we no Christian historians?

Scot McKnight keeps feeling the need to clarify (for some) the main point of his recent CT article (April, 2010) about which there was much discussion on several biblioblogs.  Personally, I still think Christians are too defensively minded when they engage with History and that the Church should be more proactive (for our own sakes) in constructing larger narratives about the cannonical Jesus.

For his part, Scot points out once again that his only critique was against "the Historical Jesus enterprise" as it has been typically practiced.  I cannot agree more.  Clipping out parts of the Gospels and then putting it all together creatively is NOT something I've ever valued myself, as a believer.  But then... as believers... what else might we do?

Here's what I'm wondering.  When Scot says he's FOR "doing history" and "the value of history when it comes to our knowledge about Jesus" - how does that jibe, in his mind, with his very next statement?
The Church has a Jesus; it is found in the apostolic witness to Jesus in the Four Gospels. That is the Jesus upon whom we need to focus.
Amen.  AND that should include historical focus, Scot, right?  I'm not sure Scot agrees.  Again, one sentence later, his closing question asks us to choose "The Church's Jesus or the historian's Jesus". Yes, I get what Scot's contrasting, but his rhetorichal flourish still (technically) concludes by emphasizing a false dichotomy. Straight after affirming "history", Scot denounces "historians".  Sigh.  It's so hard to use words.

To reality, then:  Can't the church have historians? Ones whose rigorous academic goals are aimed at the church, and not focused on interactions with heathen? I'm still looking for such persons.

In all this - it has just now occurred to me - I'd gotten the impression Scot himself was not such a person himself. Not a Christian Historian. But maybe he is. I suppose then it's time I search out some of Scot's books to find out for myself. That is, unless some gentle reader can helpfully save me the bother...

June 24, 2010

This is my thing

The Timeline. Annalized summaries of History, blended with scripture. According to my own clearly superior chronology. Natch. :-)

This is what I came here to do, and the new improved version is finally underway. I'll continue to post updates here as the page there keeps growing. Tonight, 9 BC and 8 BC are up. They're short, but power packed. Come and see.

You may also enjoy the new format. Each Year's info is arranged into (1) Historical Facts, (2) Probable Facts, and (3) Scriptural Facts. Note: "Scriptural facts assume historicity of the passages referenced, by faith OR for the sake of argument - take your pick."

If I complete this task, do it well, and publish nothing else for the rest of my life, I should be very satisfied. (I won't be, but it'll do for a start!)

Please stay tuned. The best is still yet to come...

June 23, 2010

Dynamic Events of Jesus' Life

deriving event sequence from narrative sequence in Gospel accounts

Narrative sequence doesn't always imply chronological sequence, but related sections of narrative can often imply chronological relationships between purported events. In other words, the contents of each Gospel narrative may not be 100% chronologically sequenced, but many elements within each Gospel have clearly been sequenced into chronological order. So the question is not whether the narratives are chronological, but to what extent.

Conservative exegetes sometimes suggest that answering this question depends largely on the presence (or lack thereof) of specifically temporal language - especially transition words that refer clearly to time passing in between narrative episodes. However, temporal language is not the only temporal evidence in language. For balance, an historical approach to this chronological problem could begin by attempting to isolate a series of dynamic events, or 'critical points' in each Gospel narrative, which are moments that demarcate significant change in some particular status quo. From this approach, the task is no longer about finding chronology in narrative, but about finding chronological implications in narrative content.

The five most obvious examples are Jesus’ birth, baptism, public ministry, death and resurrection, each of which bears an indisputably causal relationship to the others. The order of their dependency on one another could not be mistaken, even if their sequence-in-narrative had sometimes been jumbled. Another obvious sequence winding through all four canonical Gospels is John the Baptist’s ministry, arrest, struggle, martyrdom and legacy. Again, the causal dependency of these dynamic events stands as evidence of precise chronological sensibility on the part of each Gospel writer - but this sensibility is applied to each embedded event chain, if perhaps not for the narrative at large.

Such points-of-change in Gospel narratives cannot properly be considered as chronological markers, but they should be utilized as critical points in reconstructing how much of an historical event sequence is being purported by each writer. Although much of the content in each Gospel do not display indisputably causal relationships to key dynamic events, many sections of narrative do reveal strong connections to major critical points, and other narrative content stands connected to minor critical points.

To illustrate: Levi's (Matthew's) calling is a minor critical point in the Synoptics because it cannot be located after Jesus' commissioning of the twelve, or their being sent out as apostles. These two dependent events are not now critical points in themselves, but they are what makes Levi's calling a critical point by itself. Now, the next major critical point following these two dependent events, in all three Synoptic narratives, is John's execution. However, since narrative sequence is no guarantee of historical sequence, we must investigate further. Do these episodes contain evidence of some significant status quo change that occurred when John died? Or do they connect, in some Gospels, with subsequent events which can then be directly tied to the time of John's death? These questions remain to be answered, but doing so must rely strictly on narrated or illustrated causality - not on narrative sequence alone.

However many distinct instances of relative chronology can be reasonably compiled from each narrative, those connected chains-of-events can be compiled into one implied historical sequence for each Gospel. Finally, once each Gospel's event sequence has been so derived, all four can be compared and tested against one another for chronological alignment.

Much attention has been paid in the past to contradictions in narrative sequence, among the four Gospels. However, by looking at claims of the narrative in a historical sense, we may find far more than general agreement on chronological sequence. We may find a large, complex chain of events upon which the Synoptics, at least, all agree. John's content being predominantly unique, we expect to find less in agreement, but perhaps nothing in disagreement. If so, then the option to intertwine all four event chains may boil down to a judgment call... or to a matter of preference.

Note: the Temple cleansing at John 2:14ff is an event dependent on Jesus walking into Jerusalem at 2:13 and can also be seen as a critical event upon which Nicodemus' nighttime visits and possibly Jesus' withdrawal into the Judean countryside both depend. If we accept the incident into John's event chain, we must then either reject its historicity as contradictory from the Synoptic event chain or accept it as a separate incident. However, John's embedded chronological data at 2:20 would still belong editorially to the event period of 2:13 & 2:23.

More cautions are worth mentioning. Simply deriving a valid event sequence from a Gospel's narrative sequence does not prove the historicity (or chronologicity) of that sequence, although contradictions between any two Gospels' event chains absolutely do make suspect either their historicity or the reconstruction of those event chains. Furthermore, it should be clear that this entire enterprise (deriving event sequence from narrative sequence) is not properly to be termed a 'chronological' endeavor, because actually dating any of these events would require a whole other level of inquiry.

Finally, it must be stressed that this endeavor does not aim at 'Gospel Harmony'. The most we might 'harmonize' from this process would be four critically extracted event-chains, which (IF accepted as historical) could indeed be compiled into one dateless timeline of several key events during Jesus' life. In the end, these results might be much less content-inclusive than many would wish, and yet far more comprehensive than others might expect.

Narrative sequence does not imply event sequence, but event sequence is often made clear by details in the content of narrative.


Related posts:

Event Sequence: Mark vs. Luke (Feb '10)
A Dynamic Event: Jesus Separates from Peter (Feb '10)
A Dynamic Event: John's Imprisonment (Feb '10)
Foundations for Gospel Chronology (Nov '09)
Event Sequencing: John's Beheading (Sept '09)
sequence, not harmony (Aug '09)
Sequence of Gospel Events (July '08)

June 21, 2010

Thanks, Joel & Bitsy

It's well worth promoting, but I can't take credit for creating the truly awe-full Scholarpalooza list, nor for updating it (yet). So far, I've merely created a backup copy from the original Top 50 page and pasted it onto this site.

Okay. Well. I did do the name.

I wonder if it also floats in water?

Pulpit Fiction

Since the New Testament was written, church 'traditions' have added to, built upon and filled in the blanks about what happened in between scripture's pages. Some of the oldest are also some of the most ridiculous - like inventing the names of the 70 disciples mentioned in Luke 10, or that Thomas fought dragons in India, or that he was transported from there to witness Mary's bodily assumption (from the grave!) into heaven. No offense to my staunchest of Catholic friends, but I suspect someone concocted those stories.

In Protestant circles, however, a similar kind of historical embellishment has become far too common. The very same post-reformation trajectory which brings us closer and closer to theological anarchy has also led us all to invent (or adopt) our own fictional Jesus stories. Now instead of one sanctioned collection of stories, we have endless variations. For this, partly, we can blame every preacher who ever stood up and said "Scholars tell us we don't know for sure, but this is what I think might have happened".

It's the "we don't know" part that bugs me the most. Not to quibble just now about what we do or don't know about earliest Christian History, but - to echo one of my constant refrains - why don't the same preachers express such blanket agnosticism about their theology? The same pulpiteers who assert with such confidence their own denominational 'isms' will then turn around and proclaim that we know NOTHING about what Jesus did for his teens and twenties. So, we're afraid to say Jesus was part of the Nazareth Synagogue, I suppose. Hmmm.

A pattern begins to emerge. What do church 'traditions', doctrinal 'isms', and contextual embellishments all have in common? Creative control. Assertive preaching has always been more effective at establishing permanent institutions than... well, than anything else, really. Once a good pulpit fiction gets repeated enough times, it may as well be New Testament Scripture! Or, rather, that used to be true...

As the post-reformation trend towards anarchy interweaves with the postmodern rejection of authoritarian dogma, the proliferation of Jesus Stories is playing right into the hands of the unholy desire for an individualized Jesus.

The mainline denominations, meanwhile, continue resisting the inherently humble approach which is proper historiography. If our best Christian minds got together and produced two or three leading scenarios for earliest Christian History - from a standpoint of trusting the scripture - it would certainly help fill the immense historical vacuum into which so much ridiculous fiction continues to pour. It would also threaten most of denominational Christendom.

Meanwhile, as God loving Christians continue abandoning pews by the thousands, it gets somewhat easier to dream of a world without pulpits. But as living room Christians continue to bring in their terrible habits, it is not yet so easy to dream of a world without Pulpit Fiction.

June 19, 2010

New Page: Scholarpalooza

Underneath my own short introduction, I've copied all 600+ links from the Archives of NT Wrong or Jim's Minions or whoever was keeping up with that page most of us still link to.  If someone else updates it, I may update my copy of it, but that job definitely got way too big for one person.  Maybe the SBL committee can suggest... a committee.  Or something?

My personal blogroll has grown a bit (scroll down the sidebar) but I certainly haven't read everything on the big list.  Partly, I just felt like making a backup, and partly I wanted to present "the complete list" to my own readers.  Besides, I think it goes really well with what I had to say about it. Enjoy.

Blogger Updates will continue:  One tabbed page down, four to go.

June 16, 2010

Reading the Gospels

It has been said - Brand new Christians who start reading the Gospels are usually looking for two things as they're turning the pages. They're looking for (1) stuff that makes them say 'woah' and (2) stuff they think they're supposed to start doing.

I'm also willing to bet - if you're the kind of Christian who takes themselves in for servicing once a week - that your preachers' sermons feature a lot of (1) and (2) as well. You're more likely to donate when they give you good woahs. You're more likely to stay involved when they convince you of things to be fervently doing (or not doing).

Woah's and supposed'tas are so common in Christendom, someone reading may even be asking, What else is there? Plenty.

We know that when Jesus was living out his late twenties in Galilee, he would go sit in Synagogue on the Sabbath. During the meeting, scripture would be read from, expounded upon, and discussed. After the meeting, Jesus would often go into a room by himself, close the door, and pray to his God there in secret. Doubtlessly, Jesus would also meditate on the scriptures he'd learned, there in secret.

Now, ask yourself this. Could we ever imagine that Jesus was thinking about the Old Testament scriptures and looking for (1) woahs and (2) gotta-dos? Can we imagine that was that HOW Jesus sought out, experienced and followed his Father, in Spirit, on Earth? We might imagine that, if that's what we ourselves had been taught about Christianity.

Here's a radical idea. Instead of reading the Gospels and looking for things that impress *us*, or things that affect *us*, what if we tried reading the Gospels and looking for things that impressed Jesus, and things that affected Jesus.

We might wind up with a better view of the Gospels as a testimony about Who He Is, rather than as a tool for conveying "what we believe".

The stubbornness of Edward Gibbon

I found this boundary-breaking quote the other day, about the famous amateur author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Emphasis mine:
"Gibbon'’s problem [in 1781], for which he did not publish his solution until 1788, was whether he should continue his narrative through the history of the Eastern Empire.// In the end he did. But the points to which we should pay attention are (1) that he did not really know how to do it, (2) [and] that this was because his readers and his fellow historians did not particularly want him to do it, and (3) that we ourselves, 225 years later, are not very far from sharing his and their outlook." source: UN essay online
This view of Gibbon would be more encouraging, if the practical picture it paints weren't so incredibly daunting. Ah, well. Onward.

On which note...

I must say, UN political idealism aside, I find it fascinating that the author's introduction (re: Gibbon) may be faintly recalled by her/his conclusion, which states in part:
Historiography is an attribute of sovereignty; we can better manage what we are and what we may become if we can determine and debate what we have been and how we become what we now are. But the ability to think, speak and write historically is culture-specific; it arises in response to needs more local than universal, and is distributed among the peoples by the turbulent and confused injustices of human history. We need, in a plurality of civilizations, not only a plurality of histories, but a history of histories and of the absence or lack of histories.
In other words, the writing of History is no longer quite so much 'by the winners', and this is a very good thing for a pluralistic society. Well, maybe-so-maybe-not all at once, but at least this much is certain.

The present multiplicity of 'local sovereignties' makes it BOTH more likely that future Edward Gibbon(ses) might write well enough to shake things up in much needed ways AND ALSO less likely that such a person might ever be heard.

It took Gibbon seven years to publish on his daunting problem. I can blab here in seven seconds, but to know what I'm doing? That's problem numero uno. Besides that, maybe I need to publish more locally. But now I really digress...

June 15, 2010

Form Criticism vs. 'Gospel History'

Modern Biblical Criticism has long noted literary and theological patterns in all four cannonical Gospels. In fact, there's no question about it. These patterns DO seem to account for some part of the rationale for how content was arranged in each Gospel narrative. Some, that is, but certainly not all.

If it can be shown (and it can) that each Gospel writer blended together a mixture of directives - BOTH historical/chronological AND literary/theological - in deciding how to arrange narrative content... then the next questions are whether we can identify very much historical sequence of events in Gospel narrative and is there enough to proceed towards reconstructing those event chains from each narrative(?).

If the Gospels were merely stories with theological impetus, they would not have cared so much about facts (people, places) and hinging their narratives on dynamic, game-changing moments. However, since the Gospel writers seem to have brought a mixture of aims to their task, then we should be at least as justified in reconstructing a historical account of Jesus' life as we are in constructing theologies from Jesus' words.

June 14, 2010

No Provision for Failure?

Why do we not let churches die? Why keep churches on life support, when so many are constantly barely alive? Why not pull the plug? Why do we believe in resurrection, if we won't allow (or cannot simply acknowledge) what is patently death?

Why do structures established in one place so often go on to outlast the residing of God in that place? Why is anyone so vain as to suppose that a new church's future membership will continue to find LIFE and SPIRIT in following hand-me-down customs?

Why do we lament that churches are closing up shop left and right, in some parts of today's world? Should we not be more glad, if the life has departed, that the husk of that lifeless body should mercifully start to decay and dissolve?

Better yet, HOW does a church make provision for its own future demise? HOW does a people - once they've put up some shelter for God-in-their-midst - HOW does that people decide to declare themselves dead and remove their own husk?

Perhaps churches cannot self-destruct. Perhaps we fear it's unfaithful to simply dissolve. Or, perhaps, churches might simply try to build up less permanent structures.

According to God, via Moses, the Spirit of God needs a house on this earth that can still pull up stakes when the fire goes elsewhere. According to God, via Ezekial, the City of God sits on wheels and it turns on a dime. According to God, via Jesus, we should not make provisions for too very far into the future. According to God, via Stephen, the Spirit of God does not stay (very long) in stone houses.

We may fail. He must go on.

June 13, 2010

The Spirit does NOT despise Structure

Yes, that IS a false dichotomy. Look, we all know my ecclesiology is somewhat Bohemian, but let's face facts.

First of all, the Lord's Spirit can, does and is often pleased to dwell within people whose gatherings and associations have become highly structured. Secondly, structure (organization, rules, custom, tradition, hierarchy, etc) has never been THE thing that quenches the Spirit or restricts its wider flow among all of Christ's people. Obviously, MANY things quench the Spirit. But - if it's done well - a positive, flexible structure can actually facilitate MORE of that every-member functioning which ought to exist.

No, human structure is not always the enemy of God's Spirit. It can become that, but so can a lot else. One particular thing about structure, however, is that we tend to establish structures aiming to permanentize them as well. Thus, once any structure becomes a real problem, it's usually also a permanent problem. Lifeless churches remain undead zombie churches. (World without end, amen.)

But that's still not the worst thing of all.

These heavily structured and seemingly zombie-fied versions of Christendom have become so common, they long ago began to present themselves as the norm. That not only perturbs both God and unbelievers, that often leaves the passionate remnant of any community far too likely to find themselves resisting the wrong thing.

June 12, 2010

Skeptics, be skeptics

Dear friends, I just thought I should mention this. Yesterday, after lunch, someone whose IP hails from Englewood, CO, did a Google search for "New Testament reliable", found my post about Gospel Origins, scanned a handful of other recent posts, and then came back to leave a brief rebuttal. Really? Well...

I guess I'm developing a policy on arguing with skeptics. Apparently, my first policy is I don't argue with anonymous people. My second policy is that I don't fight just to fight. And my third policy is going to be what it's always been - that I love a good argumentative chat, but I don't really care about turning skeptics into believers. Love y'all, but you just aren't my mission field.

In my humble opinion, we in Christendom have got far too many believers who already are way too skeptical as it is. I don't want to make more skeptic-believers. So. If it hasn't been clear before now, let me make this incredibly plain. I make noise here to cause problems for those who ARE willing to trust the scriptures, but whose scholarship compromises too much with the assertive skeptics of the Academy.

Not that I can tell much about my fight itchy commenter, and whether she/he was or was not a member of anything. But if you're someone who trusts scholars that supposedly 'convinced reasonable people the Jesus stories are not historical', well then I guess that's who you trust. Call me the skeptic on this, but I don't trust those people at all.

So, dear skeptics, please feel free to keep being skeptics. Really. Knock yourselves out. In the end, I hope you won't go to heck, but that's really not my concern. Now with that said, sure I'd love to be friends, and I always enjoy a good argument. But I'm not here to convert you.

If you want to fight someone about skepticism, go fight someone else. Or, as Apu from the Simpsons once said, "Get out of my store! And come again." ;-)

June 10, 2010

Source Criticism vs. 'Gospel History'

Modern Biblical Criticism has assumed the Gospels were handed down orally or that the earliest written sources were merely collections of the Lord’s teachings. On this basis, as if general skepticism wasn’t already enough, the secular Academy in Biblical Studies has concluded that the content of the Gospels must not be very useful for the reconstruction of historical events. It should go without saying there is another way to view things.

If it could be shown that Jesus’ earliest followers made any kind of written records of his words and deeds, the historic value of Gospel events would be infinitely greater than scholars currently allow. Of course this case cannot be proven, but at the very least it should be no less valid an assumption to begin from than the ones which currently hold rank in Universities and – yes – even in Seminaries.

If the Gospels are merely “portraits” of Jesus Christ and his life, then we really do have to take an awful lot on faith, which is fine. However, if the Gospels are the historical testimony of reliable eyewitnesses, whose first hand recollections were added to early journals and notes kept by the disciples of Jesus themselves… that simple adjustment in presuppositions starting points could change everything about New Testament studies.

And wouldn't that be great?

June 9, 2010

Situating Galatians - Early, Southern, after the Council

Here's the scenario, in a nutshell:

(1) Sent by the church in Antioch, Barnabas & Paul deliver financial relief in advance of the prophesied famine, so the Jerusalem church can begin buying extra and stocking up before food becomes scarce. Arriving during an outbreak of persecution, at the Passover of 44 AD (Acts 12), Paul & Barnabas are unable to meet with the church, which has gone into hiding.

(2) Commissioned by the Holy Spirit in 44 or 45 AD Barnabas & Paul go on to plant four churches in Southern Galatia (A.13-14), returning to Antioch by 47 or 48 AD.

(3) The famine now over, Peter comes to visit Antioch in late 48 or early 49 (G.2:10) but so do some from Judea's circumcision party, "certain men from James" (G.2:11, A.15:1) and these 'Judaizers' create social schism among the church. Soon Peter is swayed (G.2:12) and even Barnabas is led astray (G.2:13). Paul rebukes Peter (G.2:11ff) and Barnabas rejoins Paul's side in the ongoing debate (A.15:2).

(4) The church in Antioch kicks the debate 'up' to Jerusalem (A.15:2-3) where Paul, Barnabas & Titus win the day on the big issue, but accept James' conditions. That is, the delegation accepts them. Barnabas & Titus may have outvoted Paul on this; Paul's contempt for Jerusalem's three laws becomes evident soon enough.

(5) P,B & T return to Antioch, still in 49 AD. Before long, Barnabas takes John Mark to Cyprus, after which Paul receives word that some 'Judaizers' from Antioch had gone on to cause trouble in Galatia - evidently during the time of Jerusalem's council.

(6) Paul writes a scathing letter without Barnabas' balancing influence, both asserting Jerusalem's official countenance of his Gospel AND revealing his own harsh opinions about Jerusalem's attitudes in general. Finally, Titus & Luke deliver the letter, visit with the churches (G.2:3), and testify about events in Antioch & Jerusalem, probably saving Jerusalem's letter to present as a last resort.

(7) Titus & Luke proceed to their prearranged rendezvous point at 'Troy' (Troas, A.16:8). Paul & Silas lag long enough for each Galatian church to digest their visit from Luke & Titus, and then proceed to discover at least three of the churches doing fairly well, in part thanks to Timothy (A.16:1-2). By now it is early/mid 50 AD.

Without defending it here, that's the basic scenario. Galatians was Paul's first epistle, written to the four churches of South Galatia, but not until AFTER the Council of Acts 15.

Now, ask me some challenging questions!

June 8, 2010

Honoring Gospel Disharmony

There is no 'Gospel Harmony'. The Gospels are like a Corinthian cacophony! Each sings beautifully in its own way, but Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as a group will always require a 'Paul' to bring their four songs decently into order. (Historically OR Theologically)

Singing four songs at once - or splicing parts of each song into one Frankensteinian medley - will not produce 'Harmony'. Rather, for any beneficial harmonization to take place, a new song must be sung - one based on the four Greater Songs, that does not merely copy them, or attempt to one-up them, but to bring homage.

The Gospels are ultimate classics. Respect the classics. Play, replay and cover them!

June 7, 2010

Game Changing Quote

"There are critical junctures in each Gospel narrative where the status quo changes. If everything before and after those junctures reflects a consistency (pre/post status quo) in that regard, then we have more evidence of chronological sensibility in the narrative at large.

For example, someone should do a study of Luke's gospel alone and ask, how many elements in each story-episode would not fit if we 'moved' this episode further backwards or forwards in his narrative. There's a few stories that could slide quite a ways, but there are many more that could only go so far."

Who said this? Me, last November

Why bring it up? I think this is what I need to be working on more, nowadays.

Stay tuned...

June 6, 2010

Rehabilitating a Steward - 5

The conclusion: summing up parts 1, 2, 3 & 4.

If typical, the rich man in Luke 16 already had plenty of money. His personal share from his fields was over one thousand bushels of grain, after harvest. His oil pressing facility was turning over almost a thousand gallons of oil in pure profit. Keep in mind, such a man could have easily been collecting from loan interest, rental income and perhaps other ventures as well.

At any rate, these fields and this oil press alone had been yielding such bounty for years upon years. Such rich men did not become wealthy overnight, and it would more likely have been one's father or grandfather that purchased a farmland and a press, and invested in both for some years, producing surpluses after attaining fairly regular profitability.

This explains why, at all points in Jesus' parable, this rich man clearly had NO desperation about collecting on these late payments. And that matters immensely.

Recognizing his comfort helps us see the larger point. A successful rich man knew that reducing his income from one year of profit was a very small price to pay for the much larger benefit of rehabilitating his steward. Good help is hard to find. Thus, finding out that his formerly lazy (or laizzez-faire?) steward had finally discovered the vital necessity of social interdependence - THAT was the prize, for the rich man. Once the top level manager understood the importance of managing relationships with the landowner's onsite contractors, everything else could be worked on.

In other words, wealthy people stay wealthy by taking the long-term view, and that's just what explains the odd twist this time in Jesus' parable. None of us survive in the long-term by relying on diligence and efficiency. Long-term, we must learn to rely on others.

The wealthy landowner used his profits in good years to secure good favor with other wealthy friends, as a store house of good will against possible times of great need.

The contractor-debtors worked on site all year long for the benefit of the master whose wealth would provide for them always, as long as they kept proving loyal.

The steward had finally realized that serving the landlord meant taking good care of his contractor-debtors. His job wasn't just about picking up dues and enforcing the rules. It was about treating those on-site workers themselves like the living and valuable assets they were.

Whatever else Jesus was aiming at with the parable in Luke 16, we can at least observe this much. All of these people leveraged their earthly resources to improve key relationships that affected their futures. Surely, that's what the master wanted to see happening - all his associates investing in everyone's long-term well-being, together.

Just as surely, Jesus had BOTH lifelong AND Eternal perspectives in mind whenever he shared this perplexing parable with the crowds he encountered. We can also sacrifice earthly resources to get in good with Him who holds the ultimate long-term.

We are all stewards of resources entrusted to us.

We can all become better investors in God and in others.


June 5, 2010

Diversity Timeline

I definitely have some issues with the details, but Darrell Pursiful's branching family tree timeline of New Testament Diversity is fascinating, and a great place to start thinking about many aspects of the complex NT Story. For explanation & bibilography, see Darrell's post. For a quick glance, here's the graphic:

Proof That's Obvious

My Mom's Dad, an engineer, tells the story of a college Calculus professor who would begin demonstrating a proof on the chalkboard, get half way through, state that he could skip the final steps because "That's obvious!", and then promptly erase the board. I'm sure he was right. I'm sure it was obvious. But it wasn't to his students.

Most High School Geometry teachers largely avoid teaching "proofs", but I've always told students - if we didn't have all these nice beautiful rules about angles, triangles and circles, we'd invent some other way to teach you all how to argue. I love logic, and arguing, but we all get by on faith to some degree or another.

Does physical sensation prove the physical realm is real, or might we all be in the Matrix? Yes, that's silly, but some will argue the point strenuously. I choose to trust my own senses. I believe they're reliable. That's obvious. At least, to most people. But how much else is "obvious"?

At whatever level of Mathematics, it's common for students to "see" a solution without knowing how they did so, or without being able to prove it's correct. Academically, that makes their solution invalid. Practically, it doesn't matter. Someone's proposed solution is every bit as sound as their vision is keen. It just doesn't always communicate.

One of life's frustrations is our struggle to share vision with others when the proof isn't obvious to them. One of life's challenges is to question whether we ourselves are correct about things when others don't won't or can't follow our reasoning.

One of life's ironies is that simpletons can sometimes be correct about things scholars vehemently deny. One of life's mysteries is that any of us may be correct or incorrect about many things, and never know which for certain. And yet somehow God does not feel it necessary to settle all our debates.

Apparently. (But I mean, isn't that obvious?)

June 4, 2010

Rehabilitating a Steward - 4

Viewed carefully, the parable in Luke 16 gives no indication that the rich man’s stable of contractors (‘debtors’, χρεωφειλετῶν) had been struggling in their operations. We only know that they had not yet paid. We have no indication whatsoever that these ‘debtors’ were unable to pay. Quite to the contrary, it is the steward who suggests fraud. Surely, if these on-site managers had wound up much below expectations, they’d not have self-reported such high levels of profit ‘in kind’.

The rich man's problem was that his steward did not know what each contractor owed. Naturally, therefore, neither did the rich man. That's the whole point of the situation, when the parable opens. It wasn't the rich man's job to keep up with which ones of his holdings were doing how well at all times. That’s why rich people have stewards. The top level managers are expected to manage the operational managers. But this steward was reportedly derelict in that duty. On examination, the steward’s alleged crimes of neglect were proved true when he could not summarize on-the-spot the details of those accounts he'd been given to oversee.

The steward hadn't yet been dishonest. He'd just been very lazy.

Much worse, by far, this steward had been horribly anti-social.

There was still plenty of good revenue to be had, but the on-site mangers most directly responsible for generating that revenue had been severely neglected. These good, faithful contractors were supposed to depend on this particular steward as their link to their landlord and patron, but the steward had been so absent for so long that he wasn't even aware of their bottom lines.

Such on-site managers could not have been comfortable hearing nothing for so long from the rich man whose property they'd been working. It may have even been one of these managers who first brought the poor steward's conduct to his master's attention. Yet, even still, these contractors were pleased enough with the way things had been going to self-report sizable debts. Remember, the landlord didn't know what they owed. The steward didn't know what they owed. But the on-site managers reported it happily.

Now the other shoe drops. These contractors must also have reported their own kickbacks to the client/landowner. After all, who else could have told him? Like the rich man paid heed to his wealthy friends first, these 'debtors' knew who was buying their bread in the long run. They were pleased enough to report their debts honestly, so they must have been prepared to pay as much happily. Therefore, it seems they did what the steward told them, sent as much as the steward had told them, and then also sent word to the rich owner about the details of their new deals.

This new report - surprisingly – is what finally pleases the master. The puzzle is – why?

To answer that, we need only sum up what we’ve already observed.

To be concluded…

June 3, 2010

Rehabilitating a Steward - 3

In Luke 16, Jesus tells us this one particular steward ('oikonomon') was reportedly "squandering his possessions" (NASB; Greek: διασκορπίζων τὰ ὑπάρχοντα αὐτοῦ). In practical terms, that means the manager had not been profitably overseeing his portion of the master's portfolio. However, we also know that each on-site contractor kept account of how much they owed (thus being called ‘debtors’, χρεωφειλετῶν) to their landlord, and by their own reckoning, these particular holdings seem to have been doing quite well. So what was actually going on?

In virtually any case, the rich man would not have purchased these "possessions" at all recently. Likewise, the typical on-site contractor at each property would have been skilled, experienced specialists at whatever their chores. Each contractor had probably held their position for some years, and did not need to be checked up on for productivity’s sake. They may not have needed more than a dispatch from the landowner to send him his share of the positive output.

What, then, was the role of the steward?

The first thing we see the rich man ask of his steward is information. “Turn in the account of your stewardship.” But this lazy servant could not give accounts without checking with each contractor.

Now then, a capable oil manufacturer would not have agreed in principle ahead of time to promise eight-hundred gallons of oil if he had no idea what that year's olive crop was about to be like. Rather, the fact that he self-reported this sizable debt tells us his operation must have been doing well.

Eight-hundred gallons of oil is the landowner's personal profit after the oil-press contractor had sold enough else of their product to pay for the workforce, overhead, and his own cut - not to mention the bill for the olives they'd most likely purchased the previous autumn or winter. Likewise, a thousand bushels of grain was the landlord's personal share from that harvest. That's how business was done. Whatever smaller amount the wheat farmer had kept, used and sold, a percentage is what they would have agreed to beforehand.

This basic picture of how business was done turns many readings of Luke 16 on their head.

The stewards’ possessions weren’t actually unprofitable. It was only the steward’s management which has been said to be wasteful. Here were two very successful businesses, obviously being run by competent on-site foremen, but the steward must not have talked to those foremen in some time, because he wasn’t prepared to give an account for how well they ‘d been doing.

Again, the possessions were good. It’s the steward whose management had been wasteful.

To be continued…

June 2, 2010

New Books

Here's a few intriguing titles from this month's BMCR listings. Of course, at library only prices, I won't get to skim through many of these any time soon. But they look interesting...
Bar-Kochva, Bezalel. The image of the Jews in Greek literature: the Hellenistic period. Hellenistic culture and society 51. Berkeley; Los Angeles; London: University of California Press, 2010. xiv, 606 p. $95.00. ISBN 9780520253360.

Burgersdijk, D. W. P. and J. A. van Waarden (edd.).
Emperors and historiography: collected essays on the literature of the Roman Empire by Daniël den Hengst. Mnemosyne supplements 319. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2010. viii, 362 p. $179.00. ISBN 9789004174382.

Green, Bernard.
Christianity in ancient Rome: the first three centuries. London; New York: T & T Clark, 2010. ix, 258 p. $130.00. ISBN 9780567032492.

Purves, Alex C.
Space and time in ancient Greek narrative. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. xi, 273 p. $85.00. ISBN 9780521190985.

Raaflaub, Kurt A. and Richard J. A. Talbert (edd.).
Geography and ethnography: perceptions of the world in pre-modern societies. The ancient world: comparative histories. Malden, MA; Oxford; Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. xvii, 357 p. $134.95. ISBN 9781405191463.
In all seriousness, if anyone wants to buy me some books - don't buy these!!! You could pay my Texas electric bill all summer long, instead, and still have change left over. And that's saying a lot! Oh, well. Someday we'll just click and download and pay by the page. Won't that be nice?

Rehabilitating a Steward - 2

The rich man in Luke 16 would have had very clear priorities. Having secured somewhat diversified revenue streams, and in addition from maintaining profitable friendships with other wealthy persons, the next most critical challenge would have been finding and keeping good help. Education and status being more exclusive in ancient times, good managers were even harder to come by than they are today, and yet they were also more important.

The more properties any wealthy man held, the more variables came into play and the more things could go wrong. Thus, the broader one's portfolio of investments and operations, the more critically one needed quality managers to help supervise it all. And once having acquired a truly large number of holdings, the primary job of a rich man becomes managing his managers.

Thus, again, the challenge of dealing with so many factors means relationships once again take on central importance.

This point brings us, now, to the steward of Luke 16.

Clearly implying that this nondescript rich man was typical, Jesus goes on to describe a steward who we quickly see is atypical. Rich men did not stay wealthy by keeping on poor managers, so most stewards must have been competent, but this one has to be fired. That part is surprising. Qualified managers were hardly expendable, because they had to be well connected enough to deserve trust. Beyond that, they had to be competent AND socially capable. One could only hire certain people to manage valuable assets… especially to help manage those profitable relationships with one’s wealthy friends.

This may be harder for some of us to grasp because many post-industrial business systems instill policies and procedures so that managers can be interchangeable, and today we implicitly trust that most corporations are certain to outlast their current operators. In contrast, the ancient world’s landowner was more like today’s small business owner, who does not pay lip service to platitudes when she says “we are only as good as our people” or “quality managers are worth more than their own weight in gold”. Like small business, today, the longevity of ancient business operations depended completely on individual actions and relationships.

Therefore, to understand the failure of this one particular steward, we must understand that he had not only failed to go around collecting revenue. This steward was unsatisfactory because he had not gone around managing the rich man’s business relationships. His laziness was not in avoiding the doing of tasks, but because he avoided interactions with important people.

To be continued…

June 1, 2010

Rehabilitating a Steward - 1

The hypothetical rich man of Luke 16 must have been a landowner, as were virtually all wealthy persons in ancient times. As such, his income would have been mostly seasonal, although his revenues would be prudently diversified. A typical portfolio of holdings might include farms, orchards, vineyards, townhouses, tenements, workshops and/or commissioned contracts. At some times he may also have been collecting interest on some number of small personal loans, most likely to wealthy friends or even to the town itself.

So in reading Luke 16, just to begin with, we must understand that something like this is what would have been typical.

Even more than diversified holdings, the wealthy stayed wealthy by nurturing profitable relationships. Yes, rent fees can stay up when crops are down. Yes, produce, livestock and grain are not often going to have equally bad years. But diverse circumstances aren't always a hedge against worsening circumstances. The best insurance against all possible ill fortune was being able to call in some favors from a collection of wealthy friends.

One wealthy friend having a good year might decide to pay back their loans in full. If you’re also having a good year, forgiving some of their interest amounts to another investment. Perhaps when you have a bad year they’ll remember your kindness and loan some of their wealth to you.

Common folks don’t understand this kind of long term personal account keeping. Common folks rely solely on masters and kin. The middle class (including career educators today - or, in the ancient world, merchants) don’t understand this. Middle class folks are self made individualists.

Understanding the mindset of the wealthy requires growing up wealthy, spending time with or studying them. Wealthy people invest primarily in one another. That’s the best strategy in their ‘world’ – which, in ancient times, was a much smaller percent of the population, but one that shared the same mindset as the wealthy today.

So – to sum up so far – there are two major factors involved in sustaining and growing significant wealth. A rich man relies on (1) diversified holdings and (2) nurturing profitable relationships. But within that second category, the next level of value – just beneath doing and owing favors for wealthy friends – was employing reliable managers.

Thus, the first key to understanding Luke 16 is that the rich man desperately needed a competent manager. We will see in more detail why this mattered so much, in the next post.

To be continued…

from Biblioblogs this May

If the BSC Carnival is defunct, maybe someone can figure out how to aggregate all our shared items, to show which items were shared most often. I know that's not the same as a carnival, but it'd be interesting. Anyway, if you'd been looking at MY shared items this month, here would have been some of the highlights (in reverse chronological order):

Alan Knox explained why we explain. Todd Bolen shared another interesting Roundup of Archaeology news. Michael Barber observed that Redaction Criticism can be rather uncritical. And Dave Black said we Christians are "enslaved by a worship of preachers". Wow.

Stephen Carlson published on Joseph & Mary having 'no space in their place to stay'. Jona Lendering spent the whole month sharing about ancient Turkey. Scot McKnight opened debate on why Women are more religious than men. And Daniel Kirk went batty over theologically influenced exegesis in Mark.

Ben Byerly testified about social politics in theologically minded faith communities. Derek Lehman discussed basic questions about where "the Rabbis" came from. Doug Chaplin critiqued Tom Wright on his understanding of Resurrection. And Stephen Smuts drew my attention to CT's article on Why Johnny Can't Read the Bible.

James McGrath gifted us all with a neologism: "Contextectomy"! Nick Norelli piqued my interest in a school of thought called Presuppositional Apologetics. (Great, another five books for the 'someday' list!) Charles Ellwood Jones shared the fascinating video A Scholar Gets a Kindle and Starts to Read. And Tony Siew mused on what euthys ("immediately") meant in Mark's Gospel, and today.

Joel Willitts affirmed that the Gospels' first place in the Church is as a historical account of our foundational story. Amen! (Joel earlier in May reposted a loooong essay on a similar thread, which I keep meaning to go back and read carefully...)

Michael Gorman blogged about our call to leave Babylon spiritually. Joel Hoffman questioned tradition in labeling God's Ten Things as 'commandments', which they're not called, in the Hebrew). Interesting. Brian Fulthorp shared what happens the more he studies the Bible. And R.T. France (via JRDK) succinctly debunked the Hosanna to Crucify fickleness theory.

Mike Fox praised a Jesus Comic Book in which Jesus looks "somewhat Jewish, and not like a wimpy white guy". Dr. Platypus reviewed some facts of Sabbatical Years (Zuckerman vs. Wacholder, again). Celucien Joseph offered a survey of trends in Western Civ during the last three centuries of questing for various "Historical Jesus"(es). And Michael Bird tried to define more precisely how the Canonical/Historical Jesus should be fitted into NT Theology. (?)

In other news this May, it seems several bloggers are preparing papers on Biblioblogging for SBL Atlanta. Also, the Chronological Study Bible and Archaeological Study Bible (it was announced) both cracked the top eight in sales figures for Bibles in 2009. (This marks a trend.) Elsewhere, the Hays-Wright Smackdown (Part Deaux) kept getting more attention from bloggers. And finally, just thirty days ago, Joel/Polycarp pointed out that blogging may be my lasting legacy.

Well good grief - I guess I'll take it, but I certainly hope to do better than just this... eventually!
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"If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient observation than to any other reason."

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