September 30, 2010

Busy Day

Tomorrow's round up should might post on Sunday someday.

If you miss me, scroll through some old "top posts" on my new About page.

Tomorrow's post will be tMoG, part 23 (of many more yet to come). UPDATE: Or later; please forgive the delay...

Happy Thursday!

September 29, 2010

The Movement of God - 22

Does holy ground stay holy forever?  Is Sinai still God's mountain, for example?  More generally, can any plot of land be the Lord's home forever, or does God claim ground only for some time, before moving on?

The fact that God moves wherever he wills probably means we should favor the second option.  But if so, then why did God bring Moses back to the site of their first encounter?  Why give the law in the same PLACE where the bush burned?

If the scholars are right (and they probably are) that Sinai & Horeb refer to the same Mountain, then God purposely brought Moses back to the same dirt He'd called "holy ground" once before. So, again - EITHER that Mountain had become sanctified for the long haul, OR God came back to re-sanctify the same ground for some other reason.  But if God is sovereign enough to claim any ground, then why go back to the same place?

Let's get the guessing out of the way.  Perhaps that consistency made it easier for Israel to believe. Perhaps the familiarity kept Moses' own confidence strong, and so his courage increased. Perhaps God just preferred Mount Sinai for some mysterious and/or peculiar reason of God's own.  Or perhaps it was simply a good location, remote enough from the rest of the world for God to be discrete?

Any or all of those could be part of what lay behind God's thinking.  But are we left with these guesses?

As it happens, we can actually do a bit better than that.

To be continued...

September 28, 2010

excerpt: History vs. Political Theory

From Gordon S. Wood's The Purpose of the Past, Chapter 11:
Historians are as interested in the ideas and ideologies of the founders as political theorists like [author]. What is different about the two disciplines is their purpose. Historians attempt to recover a past world as accurately as possible and try to show how that different world developed into our own. Political theorists who work with the ideas of the past have a different agenda. They are primarily interested in the present or future conditions of political life and see past ideas merely as the sources or seeds for present or future political thinking. [T]hey usually see the past simply as an anticipation of our present, and thus they tend to hold people in the past responsible for a future that was, in fact, inconceivable to them.

There is nothing wrong with this sort of ransacking of the past by political theorists; lawyers and jurists do it all the time. But we should never confuse these manipulations of the past for present purposes with doing history... Jefferson's idea of equality, for example, has been used time and again throughout our history, by Lincoln as well as Martin Luther King, Jr. Historians contend that such usages violate the original historical meaning of the ideas and cannot be regarded as historically accurate, but they don't deny the rationality and legitimacy of such violations.

My thoughts:

New Testament research is often political theory disguising itself as history, in order to support church politics, aka "theology". Day by day, dear Lord I pray, we need to spend more time attempting to see our own past for what it is, just as it was, not for how it might help us to mold our own future/present.

It's fine to extract principles of diversity, or of pastoral care, or of social justice, or of ecclesiological order - whichever principles those may be, for you - and then to apply those scriptural principles in another context. The most educated academics and clerics already know how this works, much better than anyone. But there are still some who push views of the first century (or allow it to appear a certain way) which support their ecclesiology, and their theology. Worst of all, it is very hard to find those who search behind the text for a reasonable History of Jesus and Paul, for its own sake. This should not be so rare.

Lord, hear our prayer.

September 27, 2010

The Movement of God - 21

Mount Sinai was the first PLACE God claimed on the Earth, since the garden of Eden. At the moment that bush burned on Mt. Sinai (aka Mt. Horeb*) the LORD declared that plot of earth to be holy ground. And when Moses brought Israel back from the Red Sea to Mt. Sinai, that same Mountain was once again God's place on Earth.

Mt. Sinai set the new world's record for intimacy between God and humanity, and that intimacy was rightfully terrifying! Like the bush had, beforehand, now the whole mountain was burning with f-i-r-e and yet was not burned up. Like the flaming sword left to guard Eden, the burning boundary of Sinai was death to anyone who approached... to anyone except Moses, that is. Moses was not only allowed to come near, he came up, and he stayed for a while. One day, God even let him bring 73 others up to feast with the Lord.

This was God's new place to connect with his creatures. Sinai was God's new position on Earth.

At least for a time.

Now let's pause and consider Mt. Sinai/Horeb* before and after its famous occasions. Had the mountain been sacred before the bush burned? Did the mountain remain sacred while Moses went back to Egypt? Did God remain there, in some special way, even while God went with Moses to Pharaoh? Did Moses, Jethro or anyone else set up boundaries to keep that land untouched?

Was that plot of land made into a shrine, until the Israelites returned to Sinai (Horeb)? Or was Mt. Horeb/Sinai* merely normal dirt in the interim, until God led Moses back there with the Israelites, and then it became holy again? There are only two things to suppose about this. Either the land became holy forever once God declared it to be so, or the land became holy at whatever times God chose to dwell there.

It cannot be both ways.  Either the land took on permanent holiness, because God had been there at one time, or else God's presentness made it holy, only during whatever times God chose to inhabit that place.

Let's consider both options.

To be continued...

(*) Note: if the majority opinion among scholars is incorrect about Horeb and Sinai being the same mountain, then Sinai was the *third* place God claimed, and thus Horeb (the second) would more definitely have been claimed for a temporary position. That's intriguing, but I've no plans to investigate further. Either way, the points made here should still apply.

September 26, 2010


It takes an awfully good pastor to be better than no pastor at all.

September 25, 2010

Convenient Diaspora

This post is worth a read.  It also needs serious balancing.  There's no mystery (or glory) in why Christians are presently abandoning "church" in droves.  It's the same reason divorce statistics shot up several decades ago.  Marriage was equally difficult before 1960 and Institutional Christendom is no more controlling today than it has been at any time in the past.  What's enabled folks to quit Sunday service is the same thing that enabled husbands to start dumping their wives, and vice versa.

"Quitting church" has, purely and simply, passed the tipping point of acceptability.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm all in favor of dropping the traditional weekly parade, but the reasons folks give for their leavings are all over the board, and yet the most common denominator is selfishness, if not outright libertinism.  "I wanted more community."  "I didn't think ___ was right/wrong."  "My questions weren't honored."  Those may well betray genuine problems in ALL parts of Christendom today, but they also betray a mindset of convenience and entitlement.  Not to come down too harshly, but if we're all just looking for a place we like better, how is that any different from what the whole world is doing, right now?

Look, I know I'm not above all these critiques myself. Not hardly. But let's not go overboard and glorify what are really our own failings. Do you want to know why "church" stinks, really?  Most of the time, it's because *we* don't do anything proactive to help make it better.

UPDATE:  the conversation below Ian's post has been excellent.  Go give it a scan.

September 23, 2010

excerpt: Truth in History

From Gordon S. Wood's The Purpose of the Past, Chapter 10:
History is one of the last humanistic disciplines to be affected by deconstruction and postmodernist theories.  These theories are not the same as ordinary historical relativism, which, as historian Gertrude Himmelfarb describes it, "locates the meaning of ideas and events so firmly in their historical context that history, rather than philosophy and nature, becomes the arbiter of truth."  Most historians these days, including Himmelfarb, have become comfortable with this kind of contextual relativism, which accepts the reality of the past and our ability to say something true, however partial, about that past.  [But] postmodernism threatens all that...

All may be contingent; all may be relative. But [citation] this prevalence of contingency and relativism does not mean the end of objectivity and the possibility of arriving at practical workable truths in history writing. It is true that historians, like all humans, are subjective: they have passions, desires, political and personal agendas. But so did Newton and Darwin, and they were still capable of discovering objective scientific truths. We can never return to the absolutist world of nineteenth-century positivism, but the alternative to that world is not the postmodernist world of total subjectivity...

[A new theory of objectivity, called "practical realism"] recognizes that there cannot be an exact correspondence between words and what is out there; still, it continues to aim for as much accuracy and completeness as possible in the historical reconstruction of the past. Our interpretation of the past may be imperfect, but practical realism knows that "some words and conventions, however socially constructed, reach out to the world and give a reasonably true description of its contents."
If those excerpts seemed interesting, the entire chapter demands your attention. Better yet, once again, I say go buy the whole book! (This chapter originally published as part of a book review in The New Yorker, November 1994.)

My comments:

Once again, Wood sings to my soul while he sharpens my brain.  I have absolutely nothing to add that these excerpted paragraphs have not already said very well, and so very profoundly.

I suggest scrolling up for the sheer pleasure of reading them again.

September 22, 2010

The Movement of God - 20

Where was God's PLACE, on Earth, before the Tabernacle?  What place did God have to rest, on the Earth, while Noah was bobbing along over the waves?  Where did God walk with Enoch?  Where did God dwell in the days when Abraham was his only companion?  Where did He go, when Adam & Eve left the Garden?

God still inhabited an Eternal, Spiritual realm, of course.  But on Earth, once Adam & Eve were exiled, it was as if God himself had been exiled also.  That is, the moment humanity lost its spot in the Garden, God lost his place to live with them on Earth.

Speaking AS IF Eden was real (not a myth or a metaphor), and whether Eden remains hidden somewhere, or whether Eden was lifted off of the earth... Whatever Eden was, really... Eden was God's place, on the Earth.

And God lost it.

When Man lost Eden, God lost Man, because God's Garden was made as a place God could walk with his Man.  For a brief time, the Triune God had shared that place with humanity.  But the day Eve & Adam were punished with exile, on that day God also lost a home, because God's earthly home was that place, with those two.

After Eden, God Himself had no earthly place to call home!  It was somewhat fitting, then, that Abraham, Isaac & Jacob all lived nomadic lives.  They had all built altars to the Lord, in particular places, after they'd met God in one of those places.  But each time, after building those altars, Abraham, Isaac & Jacob moved on.  So did God.

For all that time, God himself held no particular place, on the Earth.

But that began changing on the very first day God called Moses.

We noted earlier that God's first commission for Moses was replete with dynamic vocabulary.  "Come... send... bring... out..."  But we left out a very important statement, before that one.  And this statement was not dynamic or motional, but static and positional.  Before sending Moses, God situated Moses.  The first thing God said to Moses was, "Do not come nearer.  Take off your shoes, for the place on which you're standing is holy ground."

Holy ground.  God himself claimed that patch of earth.  It was special.

God's desire for holy space is as old as the Garden of Eden. Perhaps even older.

To be continued...

September 21, 2010

Dynamic Events of the Gospels

A research proposal, subtitled:  "extracting chronological sequence from narrative"
Narrative event sequence doesn’t automatically imply chronological event sequence, but embedded causalities within narrated events often do provide grounds for extracting historical sequence from narrative.  In the four Gospels, the most obviously chronological sequence includes Jesus’ birth, baptism, ministry, arrest, execution and resurrection; none of those gets narrated 'out of order'.  Another example is John’s ministry, arrest, struggle, martyrdom and legacy; again, that particular chain of events fits sequentially into each Gospel narrative.  Similarly causal relationships also appear between less significant events – for instance, Matthew had to be called before he could be named an apostle, and so on.  By connecting multiple chains of causation, one historical sequence of events might be critically extracted from each of the four Gospels.  From there, those sequences could be analyzed for contrasts as to how much could be reasonably combined into one historical sequence of events in Christ's life.  The historicity of this final sequence would obviously depend upon multiple factors, but the final project would never once have assumed chronological order merely from narrative sequence.

Of course I have absolutely no time to even begin actually doing this... properly.  If anyone wants to grant me a fellowship or a well paying internship, I'll drop everything else and begin this.  Otherwise, some industrious scholar should feel free to start in without me.  (All I ask is that you contact me eventually, about the results.)  And for everyone else, please stay tuned...

Related posts:
Dynamic Events of Jesus' Life (June '10)
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)

September 20, 2010

Best "Shack" Critique Ever

Unlike book reviewers who pepper in positive comments for general principles' sake, Pastor-Theologian Gerald Hiestand yesterday found the most beautiful reason to be positive about something one disagrees with:  because God has been using it profitably, for His purpose.  The 'money' quote:
The best way to correct an unbalanced view of God is not by introducing an opposing unbalanced view of God. / Yet at the same time, we need to be sensitive to the ways in which God is working in the lives of those who have profited by reading Young’s book. I spoke with a man at my church whose view of God was positively corrected by reading The Shack. Prior to reading the book, the man had viewed God as a stern and uncompromising task-master—a God impossible to please, a God who told you he loved you with a scowl on his face. For this man, Young’s over-compensated portrayal of God’s imminence brought a necessary corrective, allowing him to believe in a God who cared about the needs of his children, and whose love was genuine.
Now, that's a God centered grace! (The critique was pretty good, too.)

The Movement of God - 19

Israel had already wandered in Arabia for over a year when Caleb & Joshua spied out the land of the giants.  Let's repeat that.  God's people had already observed Passover for a second time!  It had been more than one full year, before they reached the Promised Land.

Most Bible readers remember Israel's 40 years of wandering, all of which were given as punishment when the Israelites failed to trust God about being able to conquer those scary giants.  But few ever mention the year-plus before that punishment began.  It takes three weeks to walk from the Red Sea to the Jordan, if that long.  God made their journey take longer because He had his own reasons for doing so.

God could have given Moses the Law on Mount Zion.

He chose Mount Sinai on purpose.

The pillar of fire in the night, the cloud in the day, the giving of the Law, the water that flowed from the rock, the manna that came every morning; these were all lessons that God wanted Israel to learn - and future Israel to remember - in the context of homelessness.  Now, God absolutely wanted to get his people settled in the Land.  He didn't want them to be nomads forever.  In fact, the Law gave instructions about what they should do with their houses, once built there.  But, at this time, God had distinct reasons for keeping the wandering Israelites in motion, living in tents.

What does all of this mean?  Had the Israelites been able to believe God the first time, about taking the land... Had that first generation from Egypt somehow been able to trust and to follow His leading... Had they somehow avoided that forty year punishment... Had that been possible, or had that taken place... God still would have taken a full year to impress Himself upon Israel in the context of homelessness.  More, God used that time to impress upon Israel the vagabond nature of His Movement on Earth.

The Pentateuch illustrates this in many ways, but nothing in the entire Law took as much time and effort to lay out and to institute, while in the wilderness, than the detailed instructions God gave Moses concerning the building and upkeep for his new House on Earth.  Most Bible readers do remember this one, but it's significance often gets downplayed.

From Sinai, God declared that his Earthly residence, from then on, would be a movable tent!

To be continued...

September 18, 2010

The Scapegoat & The Scattering

Leviticus 16 & 23 may find parallel in Acts 8:1 & 11:19.  Here's how:

On Yom Kippur, Israel's High Priest would slay a bull and a goat, as a sin-offering to the Lord, for all of Israel's sins committed within the past year.  Christ's sacrifice on Passover was the ultimate fulfillment of these rituals for the Day of Atonement.  Thus, typology cannot be strictly tied to chronological parallel.  (For another example, see here.)  With that in mind, consider the following:

After sacrificing on the Day of Atonement, Israel's High Priest would take a second goat and declare all of Israel's sins should now rest with that goat, who then had to depart (or 'escape').  With that, someone would lead the goat out into the wilderness.  In later years, the goat may have been led off a cliff.  Leviticus prescribed simply that it be led out to wander.

On the day after Yom Kippur, all over Israel, faithful Hebrews would begin constructing their Sukkot, the temporary dwellings used to mark a week of feasting.  Each family had four days to build a sukkah (booth).  So, on Tishri 11, 12, 13 & 14, the sukkot (booths) would go up, and from Tishri 15 to Tishri 21, they were supposed to be lived in.  In later years, the booths were used only at dinner time, but Leviticus prescribed them to be dwelling places for seven days.

Now, here's how all of this may be paralleled by Acts 8:1 & 11:19.

On whatever day/evening Stephen was stoned, certain Jerusalemites unleashed pent up animosity against the new sect - perhaps even subliminal guilt leftover from calling for the death of an innocent man.  Jewish believers all over the city were dragged out of their homes and thrown out of Jerusalem.  Bearing the rage/shame of their own countrymen on their heads, the believers in Christ were sent out to wander... just like the scapegoat.

On the day after Stephen was stoned, the scattered Christians of Jerusalem began finding one another in cities elsewhere in Judea.  Whatever believers gathered together that evening, on that spot, the Lord put up a spiritual Sukkah for Himself - because the Church is a dwelling for Him.  Two and three days later, the Lord was still putting up more Christian Houses in places all over Israel.  By the fifth day, if not sooner, certain scattered believers must have been gathering unto the Lord in places outside the bounds of the holy land.

In other words, it just so happens that what Stephen spoke about, according to Acts, is what actually happened in days following.  Like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron & David - before them - the new people of God were now vagabonds.  As Christ had been.  As God had been, before Solomon built the Big Box.

For the first time, since the Ark and the Tabernacle, God's Testimony became mobile on Earth once again.

And all this took place in the pattern - and maybe also around the time - of the High Holy Season.

Praise the LORD.


Related posts:

3-7-10: Why are the Ushpizin so fitting for Sukkot?
3-9-10: Situating Stephen's Speech - 1
3-10-10: Racism and Geography
3-11-10: Luke liked most Jews
3-13-10: Situating Stephen's Speech at Yom Kippur
3-15-10: Chronology of Acts 1-9
3-16-10: Stephen's Real Bias
5-27-10: Stephen's Day of Atonement

September 16, 2010

I hate to admit this...

But I'm a little behind.  Starting the new position at work, tutoring on top of that, and suddenly coaching my son's soccer team (11-12 yo's) has a lot more effect than I'd like it to have.  It's been 24 hours since I cleared out my Google Reader, and I just opened it up to see "more than 180 items".  I skim headlines, of course, but I do read lots of posts, and tonight I can't hold my eyes open to do any reading.  Let alone writing.

I've got a few posts in the can, but they need touching up and I can't even think straight tonight.  I may post over the weekend (or not) but there should definitely be another MoG post on Monday.

I also need to do more work on the timeline page.

Ah, so much time and so little to do.  "Wait.  Scratch that.  Reverse it."

September 15, 2010

The Movement of God - 18

Land symbolizes firmness, security, wealth & permanency.  Land is a picture of what we long for in desiring God Himself - a home from which no one can remove us.  The first land God picked out for human beings to dwell in was called Eden.  The second was called Canaan, which was promised to Abraham's descendants, for eons.

The firmness of land, though, has always been a relative thing.  Kings and paupers alike can struggle with holding onto much land for much time.  And while some bloodlines have passed down land for centuries, every plot of earth on this planet eventually gets taken by somebody else.  We are dust, we return to the dust, and then even our dust gets repossessed by another.  So much for (earthly) permanency.  And yet permanency is something we all covet, on Earth.

In the wilderness, Israel also was coveting land.  Having fled from Egypt, it didn't take long for the Israelites Jacobites to get tired of wandering, tired of manna, and tired of waiting on God.  Most human beings require some semblance of order and stability, in order to thrive.  And like most people on Earth, Israel wanted a land she could call her own.

Fortunately for Israel, God wanted that for her, also.

Now, God definitely had a plan for his people to enter their Land... and God absolutely had the power to bring them into it safely, and to keep them there safely for a very long time... and God had long known this would be his plan - since before Abraham!

But God also knew very well that this land was a far cry from the ideal Garden where God's life had grown so abundantly.  That land had divinity in the water!  That land had divine life in its fruit!  This land was going to require sweat of the brow, just to provide sustenance.

This land was NOT Eden.  Milk and honey are not quite the Tree and the River of Life.

But milk and honey weren't even the point.

Remember, God's whole mission so far - from Eden to the Exodus - has been aimed at recruiting people who might walk with Him.  So God wanted Israel to live in one place, yes, but he wanted them stay active as well.  God knew the Promised Land would establish Israel and bring her provision, security, longevity, esteem, and eventually considerable wealth.  Such necessary aspects of stability happened to be vital parts of God's plan.  He wanted Israel to increase in their Land.

But... All these aspects of Land were just as equally dangerous.  They might make Israel too secure.  Once such benefits were at hand, would the Israelites still cry out to God as they had while in Egypt?  Would they still long for his daily deliverance?  Would they trust his direction?  Would they follow?

Would they walk with him, once they had come to rest?  When their Exodus journey was over, once they got settled, would they ever again feel so moved by the old, nomadic God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob?

It seemed unlikely.  Maybe that's one more reason the Law came in - that awareness of sin might increase.

And yet, and yet, and yet...

As the Movement of God  s l o w l y  made its way towards the Promised Land, God was making great efforts to illustrate for Israel just how important mobility was.

To be continued...

September 14, 2010

excerpt: Microhistory

Have you not bought this book yet?  From Gordon S. Wood's The Purpose of the Past, Chapter 9:
According to many in the historical profession today, any sort of grand narrative of the past is frowned upon. Even as hard-nosed a historian as Richard D. Brown, who has written several substantial synthetic studies of early America, has succumbed to the postmodern skepticism of the present climate to the point where he doubts the possibility any longer of historians' writing large-scale synthetic accounts of the past. In his presidential address to the Society of the Early Republic, published in 2003, Brown stated that historians' claims to be telling the truth now stand on shaky ground. 'Syntheses cannot make the strongest truth claims because they are based on such selectively chosen facts.' He suggested that historians should escape from this dilemma by writing microhistories, small studies of particular localities, persons, or events. 'By exploring a finite subject exhaustively (though not definitively), the microhistorian commands the evidence on that subject beyond challenge; so within that topic readers learn to accept his or her authority.'" Certainly microhistory has flourished since the mid-1990's... But...
Wood goes on to cite specific authors and texts discussed elsewhere in the chapter. He cites one microhistorian who went on to write a "grand narrative of political history" in 2005, which won a Bancroft Prize. Wood calls this "a welcome sign of change."

My comments:

Some dilemmas can't be escaped from forever.  Eventually, I suppose, all these vigorous microhistories will surely contribute towards something larger, but what that might be we surely cannot predict.

Again, though, Wood's focus is on American History.  One parallel I see with Biblical Studies is the pattern of specialization.  But as with microhistories, one hopes that eventually all such knowledge might converge.

Meanwhile, apparently, not all grand narrative writers are going to remain on the sidelines.  Nor should they.

September 13, 2010

The Movement of God - 17

Eden was a divine institution.  In Genesis, God established one place for men and women to dwell, multiply, rule the earth and fulfill God's purpose for creating humanity.  As we discussed earlier, the garden was filled with divine life, perfectly suited as a habitat for mankind to imbibe Living water, and to eat Living fruit.  According to God, Eden had the capacity to make people be filled with Life for eons.

Point:  The fall might have been inevitable (or might not have, for all that we know) but the capacity was there.  Paradise was a permanent, divine institution, established for (potentially) forever.

There is no getting around this, for those who've sometimes preferred anti-institutional dogmas.  I should know.  I'm such a person.  But again, this was God's institution.  This was NOT subject to human control.  Yes, Eden was planted in one spot, fixed and unmoving.  Yet, within Eden itself there was also constant motion.  The garden God planted especially for Woman & Man is said to have been richly abundant with life - growing, changing, expanding, increasing, vibrant, extravagant Life!

We already discussed how the River and Tree are both divine examples of motion in stillness.  But there's more.  This particular River split outwardly, in four directions.  Wherever it ran, it was running out from Eden.  This is significant.  Eden's Life-water was going somewhere!  Thus, this divinely established habitat - which should have (regardless of whether or not it could have) remained permanently viable as an ideal home for mankind - was also somehow situated for irrigating the rest of Creation.

Eden was a divine institution, fixed and firmly established, yet completely dynamic.  Just.  Like.  God.

And also just like the Law.

The Torah was/is a divine institution, established forever, constant, unchanging, unyielding, and (some might say) unforgiving.  The descriptive word "standard" reflects that it stands, like a statue, like "a statute forever".  And God's standard stays very high - mercilessly high.  And yet the Law itself was most merciful.  The Torah reflects God's mercy, God's forgiveness, God's ability to soften his anger, to turn his own wrath away, to change course (seemingly or actually) if Abraham or Moses dearly entreated Him so to do.

The Law also gave mercy.  The very Law that condemned each soul's conscience also prescribed daily, regular and perennial methods for encouraging deep remembrance that God would keep on overlooking Israel's sins.  Time and again, year after year, time after time, and generation after generation, the statutes of mercy were to be enacted through ritual.  But these particular rituals - remember - were being prescribed by God himself.  Did they become dead rituals, after a millenia or two?  Probably.  Did they have to become so?  Perhaps they did not.

As with Eden, so with Torah.  A divine establishment, once granted to humankind, had the capacity - if not the inevitability - to remain Vibrant, a constantly renewable resource for drawing God's people back, back, ever back to himself.  As God's intended provision "forever" for Israel, the Law should have (regardless of whether it practically could have) been capable of keeping Jacob's descendants close to Him, following Him, perhaps more and more deeply, for many centuries to come.

Theoretically, the Law could have kept on doing this for forever.  Actually, the Law never stopped being viable.  Think about that.  Did the Law ever stop being capable of instigating, on Earth, the Movement of God?  Or did Israel, like Adam, simply, at some point, forsake that divine institution?

The fact is that, some centuries after Moses, Israel eventually did forsake God's Law, and for doing so, they received the same penalty as Adam.

Adam's chief punishment, you may recall, being Exile.

To be continued...

September 12, 2010

My About Page

has just been updated with a hyper-linked bio, education history and top posts for recent years.  Click the tab above, or see here.

Incidentally, Blogger says this is my 856th post currently published to this site, going back to April of 2005.  About 280 (one-third) of those happened to come during my 7 month sabbatical last year, and 19 of the 28 'top posts' for 2009 also come from that same sabbatical (including the index page to my 93 posts on Jesus in Nazareth).  Glad we're making money again, but it still appears to have been time well spent.

Thanks for reading.

September 11, 2010


Firstly, the Movement of God series will post M,W,F for two weeks, and then two or three times a week after that.  Somehow my outline keeps expanding. (!)  There's a lot yet to come, and the series should continue for several months, God willing.  I know many of you are enjoying it greatly, and hopefully we're all being challenged, as well.  I'll look forward to more tremendous conversation, as it all keeps unfolding.

In other posting to come, the Gordon Wood excerpts on the practice of History (historiography) will also continue to post once a week, around mid-week, until they're done.  If you've not guessed yet, I really really really like this book.  And if you've been at all stimulated by these posts, you should pick up a copy.

An top of all that, in case you're looking for more, there are still 90 unfinished posts in my drafts folder, all of them on the kinds of topics you've come to expect around here.  Beyond those, I'm sure there'll be lots of surprises, as well.  Like last night's post, for example, which probably explains, about as well as anything I've ever written here, why it is that I blog.

I may or may not post daily as we head towards the thick of this school semester (and by the way, for those waiting to hear, I finally did get that little bump up at the High School, thank you Lord!) and so things might begin to get extra busy around here.

But rest assured, dear readers, there is tons yet to come.

Lord willing...

September 10, 2010

Talk about a false dichotomy!

"The Bible is Theology, not History." As much as anything else, that thought illustrates the fact that theologians aren't trained to think as historians. It also brings to mind an old saying - when all you've got is a hammer, everything else begins to look like a nail.

Exhibit A, Jim West, at B&I this week:
The Bible’s aim is not to tell a historical tale; its aim is to tell a theological tale. For that reason its authors, minimalists all, recognized that their work and aim and calling was something other than to use traditions and tales for historical reconstruction. “What, when, and how” were of no interest to them at all; but “why and who” mattered supremely.
In 29 months of biblioblogging, I've gathered that Pastor West has a big heart for believers, and he wants to save believers from having to struggle against skeptical claims. So he embraces some tenets of skepticism, and builds a wall to retreat behind. Meanwhile, he maintains relationships with skeptics and occasionally ministers to them. His goal is sincere. His strategy, I believe, is ill conceived.

Point #1: Jim grew up into an academic community in which "Historical" views of the Bible had always involved doubtful detractions from scriptural claims OR futile apologetic attempts to "prove" scriptural claims. He cannot see a third way. So he retreats from History into Theology.

Exhibit B, Daniel Kirk, responding to Jim:
[I]t seems important to ask if, as an ancient historian, [Luke] had a more mixed category of history and theology that makes his work, to his mind, thoroughly both–even while it undermines the modern concerns with historiography as a discipline.

In general, though, I’d say that the way Jim describes what we should be doing with the Bible is correct: we read it to understand the theological narrative being communicated. History can help us understand that narrative better, but witnessing to an uninterpreted, “objective,” or de-divinized history behind the text, is not the purpose for which these texts were written.
Point #2: Compared to Jim, Daniel has grown up into a world that's becoming much more open minded than Jim's world ever was, and his nuance reflects that. But Daniel's world is still largely owned and operated by the world of Jim's academic forefathers, and his flurry of qualifications [on where he does or doesn't agree] reflects that.

Point #3: The code words run thick, near the end of Daniel's post. For the moment, "History" seems to mean 'having a critical awareness of contextual accuracy'; "[not] uninterpreted" reminds us that Biblical narrative writers offer biased views of the sources they worked from; "[not] 'objective'" and "[not] de-divinized" are genuflections by Daniel to that entrenched dichotomy Jim grew up into, where supposed objectivity was always pretentious, and where historical criticism always threw out supernatural subject-matter.

If you want to understand those two blocked quotes better, I'd encourage you to go read work through both posts, linked above.

But now, here's what Bill Heroman thinks.

Pastor Jim, you're simply going the way of the Dodo. I'm sorry. Shout all the louder about that, if you must. But what you're doing is trying to bully people into choosing your side of a false dichotomy. It won't work for much longer.

Daniel, the Hays v. Wright issues are vital here, BUT - and I want to hope you'll agree with me on this - the end of this debate should not become a preference for one or the other approach. The Gospels CAN be "windows to look through" when looking for History, for the sake of considering History. AND the Gospels can ALSO be read "as stories", as "theological narratives", for the sake of the texts "as we have them".

The old world was about drawing lines in the sand and getting everyone onto your side if you could. Today's world still has plenty of that, but it's becoming more common to see equal consideration being allowed.

As denominational boundaries become more and more impotent, and as Belivers grow more and more comfortable with the inherent uncertainty of faith claims, I predict that some sort of Faith-based Historical approach to biblical texts [to the Gospels, at least] will grow only more popular, among 'post-evangelicals'.  Hopefully, it will also grow more rigorous, academically.  But that's a whole other post.

YES, we acknowledge that every word in scripture may not have been chosen to serve as 'hard nosed reporting'. But NO, we do not disallow that History itself can be reached at and worked towards, through the scriptures, by the process of historical analysis and [attempted] reconstruction.

Theologians haven't been trained to think like historians. Not since forever. Instead, most theologians have been trained - whether they and their seminarian predecessors realized it or not - to prefer views that can be presented as absolute.  Theological analysis of Story can be used to promote seemingly absolute conclusions.  In contrast, History has too much possibility involved for anyone to build large, indomitable, earthly kingdoms upon it.

And that is one thing I've grown to love more and more about History.

September 9, 2010

Joe Montana debunks "Rudy"

Movies don't make great history.  Duh.  But this is too good not to link to.  For one thing, who knew Montana was a freshman that year, 1975?  But if you like college football - and I already know you like blogs - you should read Matt Hinton, at Yahoo!'s Dr. Saturday.  And here's why.  This Montana/Rudy post opens with a typical gem from the Doctor:
Biopic fans will be shocked – shocked! – to learn that Hollywood takes liberties with the real-life narratives and characters that often come to stand in for history in the popular imagination.
I love it!  Rudy's still a great movie, of course. It's obviously hyped beyond recognition. But how can you not love that ending?  "Who's the wild man now?"

Okay.  So why's this a post here? Because it's important not to mistake Fiction for History. Or vice versa!


excerpt: History as Fiction

From Gordon S. Wood's The Purpose of the Past, Chapter 7:
Historical scholarship should not be set in opposition to imagination. History writing is creative, and it surely requires imagination, but it is an imagination of a particular sort, sensitive to the differentness of the past and constricted by the documentary record. ...

One can accept the view that the historical record is fragmentary and incomplete, that recovery of the past is partial and difficult, and that historians will never finally agree in their interpretations, and yet can still believe intelligibly and not naively in an objective truth about the past that can be observed and empirically verified. Historians may never see and represent that truth wholly and finally, but some of them will come closer than others, be more nearly complete, more objective, more honest, in their written history, and we will know it, and have known it, when we see it. That knowledge is the best antidote to the destructive skepticism that is troubling us today.
This chapter was previously published as Dead Certainties (Unwarranted Speculations), a book review in the New York Review of Books, June 1991.

My thoughts:

Wood has the benefit of working with sources on the American Revolutionary Period, and a much vaster reservoir of overall data than we have for Ancient, let alone Biblical History.  Still, I think he speaks generally for all historical work in this quote.  It remains true that we CAN embrace the extent of our ignorance AND make limited attempts to reconstruct the past for its own sake WITHOUT wallowing in uncertainty for its own sake.

September 8, 2010

The Movement of God - 16

The Law stands forever.  It does not pass away.  It is outwardly static... and yet inwardly dynamic.  God's Law has within it the power to convict consciences and to motivate turnarounds (repentance).  For the righteous, God's Law is something to hear, and something to do.  There's a reason God said, over and over, in the Old Testament, "Walk in my commandments."  The word of God has always been living and active.

What's more shocking still, the Mosaic Law demanded improvisation.  Three thousand years of Jewish midrash is testimony enough that God did not institute, in the Law, an exhaustive set of prescriptions for all situations and circumstances.  Yet, God absolutely did establish his Law as an everlasting institution.  In one form or another, it still "brings wrath" and it still "imputes sin"... and all the while it can still be summed up in those two beautiful phrases - love God, and love others.

The abiding power of God's Law is dynamic potential for all who would hear and obey, even whether or not we succeed in obeying.  But let's note, once again, this incredible balance:  abiding power; dynamic potential; stability, poised to erupt!  Once again, we have change being sparked by constancy, motion springing from stillness, change and permanency together.  Who is like unto God?!!

Point:  When Moses repeatedly heard God say "This shall be a statute forever." it underscored that the Law was absolutely God's way of establishing an everlasting institution on Earth.  However - and this is a very big "however" - this was no human effort at institution.  In the Law, God established something far beyond the control of humanity.  A living and powerful foundation, directly constituted by God himself, so divine that the priests and the elders most responsible for its administration must have been terrified on a regular basis.  That was no normal set-up!

We'll come back to this contrast - God's institution vs. human institutions - later in this series.  Count on it!  But for now let's get back to the story.

At the Law's giving, on Mt. Sinai, God had been leading Moses and Israel a ways through the Arabian desert.  God could have taken them straight to the Land, but He had other designs.  For the time being, Israel was wandering.  By God's personal choice, and direction, they remained vagabonds for a time.  Sending spies into the land came more than one full year after crossing the Red Sea.  During all those months, God kept his people in tents... homeless.  As both God and humanity had truly been on the Earth, in fact, ever since Eden.

This Exodus through the desert was THE movement of God on Earth, at that time.  That much is clear.

What gets noticed less is that God's Movement itself was - and had been for a very long time - firmly enmeshed within exile.

To be continued...

September 7, 2010

History vs. Apologetics

The first problem with apologetics(*) is an assumption.  But I don't mean logical, theological or historical assumptions - which are also problems, at times.  I mean one particular assumption, namely, that any plausible explanation provides reason enough for believing the claims of a text.  It may.  It may not.

The second problem with apologetics(*) is an inconsistency.  But I don't mean logical, academic or argumentative inconsistencies - which are also problems, at times.  I mean one overarching inconsistency, namely, that many apologists work to support claims of historicity, but they do not focus on reconstructing an actual history.  In most cases, once the objection's been covered, they stop.

Plausible explanations nearly always get considered by historians, if the suggestion is properly qualified.  We don't have evidence to support every claim of most ancient texts, that can be reasonably verified.  But any thoroughly historical analysis of the past can contribute towards historians' attempts at reconstructing that past, even if the analysis may be somewhat uncritical.

In contrast to all this, apologetics(*) is almost purely defensive, and very rarely constructive.

Here's my suggested alternative:  Christian scholars, believe that the scripture is trustworthy and affirm that its historical content is accurate.  But, don't make proving that your objective.  Begin there.  Assume historicity, and then go on further to reconstruct actual history.

I think that what most people want is not extra reasons to believe that it happened.  More than that, we want a scenario to suggest how it happened.  So flesh it out, scholars!  Just as the writing process forces stray thoughts into discipline, so can a four-dimensional reconstruction illuminate both strong and weak points in one's historical supposings.

Of course, that makes affirming the scriptural Jesus and the scriptural Church a bit more "leap of faith" than a defensible goal - but that's not just a more Christian strategy for dealing with things.  That also happens to be the chief distinction between "apologetics" and good historical work.

(*)  It should be clear that I'm referring to a particular strand of Christian Apologetics, often practiced by leading Christian Scholars, ostensibly focused on defending the historical reliability of scripture, but primarily aimed at shoring up traditional interpretation and practice.

September 6, 2010

The Movement of God - 15

Without question, Moses was God's best follower since Enoch or Abraham. Moses met God and obeyed Him. "Take off your shoes." Upon doing so, God's first order of business went as follows:  "Come now, and I will send you to bring my people out of Egypt."  That's Movement, four times.  For this supreme being to call Himself "I Am Who Am", may seem ultimate and monolithic to some of us.  To Moses, God was entirely dynamic.

When God acts, He's dynamic. When God IS, He's dynamic.  When God operates together with people, they'd better be ready to move, or to be moved.  Because even when moving means staying, it's still kinetic engaging.  That is, sometimes it takes more drive to stay in one place than to go elsewhere, because tearing up old ground is not easier than heading out to pioneer in a new place.  But Moses had to do both.

God moved Moses back to Egypt, and then back out again.  God turned the heart of the Pharaoh and God held the waters apart. God made a pillar of fire and smoke that Moved in the day and the night.  Except when it rested.  And all this was so that God might start training his dear, stiff necked Israelites Jacobites how to FOLLOW and trust God's direction.

In the midst of this grand training exercise, God then declared that his people, suddenly free, needed Law!  But in giving the Law, God did two seemingly contrary things.  God made that Law both an expression of his heart, his desire for ways that his people could please him, and God also made certain that no Israelite would ever be able to keep this Law completely.

Why did God do this?  Why raise up such an impossible standard?  That question may be as unanswerable as, Why did God pick Jacob instead of Esau?  But for some reason, it pleased God to do this.  Whatever else we might say, the Law was how God thought it best to express Himself to his people at that time.

The key point, however, is that God's prior motive had not changed.  As in Genesis, so in Exodus.  As with Adam, Enoch & Abram, so with Moses & the Israelites.  God still wanted to motivate human activity and walk with his people.  The Law was simply one part - one big part - of God's next step in his method for getting there.

Perhaps the Law - in a way - was just one giant struggle for the children of Jacob to each break their hips over.  And yet, although no one followed it perfectly, many descendants of Israel were deeply moved by the Law of the Lord.  Truly, deeply, the Law inspired God's people.  Despite all its hardships, they wrote songs about God's Law, for generations to come, about his tender desires for his people, as expressed in the Law.  In such people, the Law had successfully moved them to reach toward God.  For centuries, although this was always more consistently true for some than for others, the Law repeatedly kindled a desire (if not always the ability) to please Him.

But now, let's get back to the point.  And here is something surprising.

If we search the Torah looking specifically for its dynamic aspects, one odd phrase sticks out repeatedly.  "This shall be a statute forever."  That's not dynamic.  That's the very definition of institutional.  And yes indeed, indeed it was.  The law was not established so God could let it pass away.  It will NOT pass away.

Dynamic though most of its content may be, there was something about the Law that God wanted to see institutionalized.

To be continued...

September 5, 2010

Tomorrow's Post

closes with the most shocking thing I've ever said online.  Don't miss it!

September 4, 2010

The Movement of God - 14

God worked hard to be able to influence Jacob. They had serious struggles together. God gave Jacob (Israel) twelve sons and then God used one of those sons to move Jacob physically even farther away from the land He had promised to Abraham.  Through Joseph, God took Israel to Egypt.

What was God doing?  Where was He - so to speak - going with all of this?  After some generations, a Pharaoh enslaved Jacob's descendants. But God was waiting until the right time. And as God kept still, his people were crying out, Move us!  Deliver us!  And God had said he would lead them back out, but for now God was watching and searching His people. His difficult, beloved children of Israel.  In time, God would begin calling ALL of them Jacob.  They were as tough to motivate as he had been.

At any rate, for those next few centuries, there was one pressing question on Earth: When was God going to Move?

For the same span of time, "up in Heaven", God Himself might(*) have been asking a related question:  When I Move, how much will it take to get all of Jacob to Move with Me?

So God came to Moses, Moses came to Pharaoh, and God moved dramatically!  Then the Israelites followed God as his Pillar of Fire moved beyond the Red Sea and into the desert.  God finally had a people who would move where He moved, at least physically.  But.  Would God be able to move them, in their hearts?  Could he move them, as a People, in all the ways that most mattered?

Whether God Himself foreknew the answer or not - that was THE question.

To be continued...

(*) Believe, if you prefer, that God knew precisely what would and would not be effective.  Explain, if you like, why that's not how things appear when you actually read Exodus.  Philosophize, with the Classical Theists, that God's foreknowledge must be exhaustive.  That He knows all the future.  I'm not so sure about that, but okay, fine.  Believe that.  However, I'm going to write about God like the Pentateuch does, and it seems in the Exodus that God was interacting with honesty, anticipation, and uncertainty... just like a new lover.  And that sounds like the God that I know.  Of course, if your theology demands that you explain this away, have your way.  But my way is how it appears in the Story.  So there.  ;-p

September 3, 2010

excerpt: on 'the New Historicism'

From Gordon S. Wood's The Purpose of the Past, Chapter 6:
The new historicism wants to deconstruct the past in order to show us that all the values, all the institutions, all the cannons, all the truths, and all the texts by which we live our lives are simply imprisoning fictions that were created by some people in the past (usually white males) for self-serving purposes.  These fictions are, therefore, readily susceptible to being destroyed by us in the present, in preparation for the emergence of a new, more just, more democratic order.

Such a Rousseauian view, which assumes that knowledge of the fictional character of custom will itself free us, severely underestimates the power of the past and the power of culture.  All the beliefs, values, and institutions of the culture may indeed be artificial fictions; but the historical fact of the matter is that they are fictions created by a process so complicated, involving so many participants with so many conflicting purposes over such long periods of time, that no amount of deconstruction, no degree of unmasking, can ever undo them.  The culture, of course, can be - indeed, it will be - changed, but in ways that no one, including the radical post-Marxists and the deconstructionist literary critics, ever intended or wanted.  Understanding this fact about the process of historical change is true historicism.
This chapter was previously published in the New York Review of Books, November 1990.

My thoughts:

The New Testament at its best is a Story of how God moved in human beings in the earliest years of Jesus Christ, as he came into his Body.  No matter how purely we see that Story, it will not fundamentally change the Institutional Church, as we know her.  It can, however, provide a more living perspective on HOW God moves in his people, when they gather as Christians to pursue Him in his Kingdom... and THAT ought to be a benefit for anyone, whether hampered by pew sitting traditions or couch sitting conundrums.

There are many things driving change around Christendom these days.  A fresher view of the New Testament Church is worth seeing purely for its own sake.  And God help us all, after that.

September 2, 2010

The Movement of God - 13

After Adam, one other person was said to have walked with God.  Then he was no more.  Apparently, God was so enthralled about having another human being to move with, that God somehow lifted this man, Enoch, right off the face of the Earth.  Several more generations went by... both before and after Noah... and then, finally, God found a third someone that He could move.

When God found Abram, countless tribes of people were still wandering like nomads.  Sometimes they would   fight over land and stay on it awhile.  In other places, some men had begun building cities, with great thick walls for securing that land.  But - whether they moved on or stayed put - none of these people were looking to be moved by their God.  And that is why God sought Abram.

Now, when God called to Abram, the first word He uttered was, "Go..." Abram went. And for the third time since Creation, God had a human to move with, on earth.  Perhaps Abram did not walk as closely with God as Enoch had, but God did not want to lift Abram off the earth, either.  God had particular plans for this one.

On occasion, Abram (Abraham) was a pretty good follower. In the next generation, Abraham's son Isaac had his moments also.  But Isaac's kids are a mystery! Perhaps because of the fact that neither Abraham nor Isaac had been a perfect follower (or perhaps for some other, unknowable reason) God decided he wanted to work on this co-Moving enterprise with the more difficult of Isaac's two sons. At any rate, God chose Jacob, not Esau. But then God had to win over Jacob, which took quite some doing.

By contrast, what do we humans do in the third generation of our movements? Do we choose the more willful successor, or the more easy-going compliant one? One choice seemingly promises to maintain the stability of that which has gone before now. The other choice has more dynamic power to reinvent or destroy - if not both - what's been built to that point. So which do we pick? And yet, which did God pick? How very interesting.  But now I clearly digress...

When God started trying to move Jacob, things got even more interesting.

To be continued...

September 1, 2010

NT and/or History Roundup (August, 2010)

Not necessarily the "Best of my Reader", but here are some August 2010 items from all over the blogosphere & interwebs that highlight the kinds of things you'd think NT/History Blog would be most likely to notice.  Enjoy!  Warning:  It came out a bit top heavy with Classical stuff.  NT Buffs, feel free to scroll down.

(1) Jona Lendering has been reading the Roman historian Velleius Paterculus, whose reputation has been improving among scholars in recent decades.  In observing some deliberate counter-messaging (compliment Augustus, but subtly illustrate his flaws), Jona compared Mark's Gospel (positive declarations about Jesus, surrounded by struggle and ultimate failure) and wondered if this general technique was more common in Antiquity than we've noticed.  A very interesting question.

Personally, I was far more intrigued by Jona's insight on Velleius, and what it says about Tiberius' reign (c.29 AD) that a work so set on flattery of the current emperor would be so consistently negative about his previously revered predecessor.  Promoting the Tiberian bloodline, and its guardian Sejanus, public statements like Velleius' probably helped undercut the one thing preserving public favor for Agrippina's sons - their claim to the Augustan bloodline.  There's more to be found here, if someone's not found it already.

(2) By the way, Jona also wrote a fantastic post about Roman Germany, after Varus, based partly on an artifact called the Tongeren lead bar.  Really good stuff, if you're into Roman History.  Siiiigh.  I wish more Classicists with good historical sense would post online... about the NT era... more than once in a blue moon...

(3) The BMCR Books Received (posted Aug.3rd, for July) included several on Religion in Roman times, which look interesting:  Bockmuehl, Markus and Guy G. Stroumsa (edd.). Paradise in antiquity: Jewish and Christian viewsCasadio, Giovanni and Patricia A. Johnston (edd.). Mystic cults in Magna GraeciaMitchell, Stephen and Peter Van Nuffelen (edd.). One god: pagan monotheism in the Roman Empire. AND Monotheism between pagans and Christians in late antiquity (Co-authors, two titles); Orlin, Eric M. Foreign cults in Rome: creating a Roman EmpireVárhelyi, Zsuzsanna. The religion of senators in the Roman Empire: power and the beyond.  Of course, none of these will be gracing my shelves, ever, but if some fellow blogger cares to buy and reviews any of these, I'd love to read that!!!

(4) The BMCR also posted a book review of Danijel Dzino's Illyricum in Roman Politics, 229 BC-AD 68.  If you're one of those who enjoyed my reconstruction of the Pannonian War back in 2007 (included in the 'Yearbooks' for AD 6, 7, 8 & 9), then by all means, you'll enjoy this review.  *** For the rest of you, work on Roman Illyricum helps cement what Paul said in Romans 15:19 about his personal travels - and that reference is huge for anyone trying to work out Pauline Chronology. ***

(5) Mike Bird put up a much noticed article at Bible & Interpretation - called Gentiles for Moses? - about Gentile Proselytes in Antiquity and whether Jews worked very hard to convert them.  I liked it.  I haven't quite finished all of it, with its plethora of footnotes.  But I liked it.  Good stuff.  :-)

(6) Last Friday, Dorothy King, Ph.Diva, discussed and linked to a recent dissertation on the Temple Treasure in Medieval Rome, and then Leen Ritmeyer posted the same day, uncannily, about upcoming [further] excavations at Rome's Forum of Peace, which Vespatian built to celebrate the destruction of Jerusalem.  Fascinating connections.  (The dissertation itself, by the way, was in History at LSU.  Geaux Tigers!)

(7) Daniel Kirk and Dan Wallace had a long conversation about Pharisees.  Daniel also posted a lot this month about something called "Inerrancy".  But I don' know nutin bout dat.  I just try my best to always trust the Bible.  (!)  By the way, Dr. JRDK had several good posts this month and may have peaked in his blogging stride by late summer, two years running.  This time, he seems to have warded off the temptation to quit blogging.  Good.  Of all "theological" blogs that I (try to) read, I like Daniel's Storied Theology best.

(8)  I'm getting tired of hearing about it, without owning it, but I still can't afford to buy it.  But if anyone wants to send me a copy of The Sacred Bridge:  Carta's Atlas of the Biblical World, I'd surely be much obliged!  Or buy any book linked here, and Amazon will give me a few nickels towards it.  :-)

(9)  Various Bibliobloggers also posted great stuff:

Phillip J. Long had an excellent post on First Century Judaisms? - plural, question mark.  RBL has a a review that I still need to read, on a book that offers a political and theological take on Acts.  It's called World Upside Down:  Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age.  And someone on Twitter said the Bible is like a software license.  We all scroll to the bottom and click "agree".

It would naturally be Michael Barber who pointed out that Moses was also a Priest... but of course he's absolutely correct.  Not that I want to live at the foot of Mt. Sinai, Michael.  ;-)  Just joshing, my Catholic Brother!  Meanwhile, Scot McKnight enjoyed reading the book Jesus Manifesto, by Len Sweet & Frank Viola.  I still need to read my copy, too.  The consensus seems to be that, yes, Jesus is indeed very good.  :-)

On the Zondervan blog, Darrell Bock has just said he'll be condensing last year's IBR Jesus book, Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus.  Good.  Thanks, Darrell.  That thing's a dang doorstop.  Meanwhile (speaking of apologetics!) the bloggers at History of the Ancient World let us know that it's possible Cleopatra DID drink a pearl, as Pliny claimed, even though most scholars took that to be fiction.  Here's a video, with some science on the most likely 'solution'.

Brian LePort blogged about Quirinius here and here, as I blogged about here.  Doug Chaplin had a great post about Christians (mis)reading Torah - and yes, that does apply to NT studies, as you'll see if you read Doug's wonderful post.  And Charles Savelle alerted us to some great tidbits offered by first century historian Paul Maier.

By the way - this one's not about NT or History, but - Seth Godin has announced he's no longer going to use traditional publishing.  Wowie, zow-wow.  I am patiently jealous.

(10) Finally, I have to say it seemed like there were tons of posts in August about the possible/supposed historicity of Adam, Eve & Eden.  This helped me when putting my thoughts into Genesis AS IF History, which I'll hope becomes the last thing I ever post on this topic.  By the way, this one IS related to NT/History.  How?  I'll repeat that post's thesis:
it is NOT evidence for Adam's historicity to point out that both Jesus and Paul spoke about Adam as if he were real.  This is unfortunate, from one way of thinking.  However, the pattern of Jesus and Paul IS an example of how we might speak and write about Adam.  Thus, we might do as well as Jesus and Paul did if we continue speaking AS IF Adam were, in fact, a historical figure.
And that's why I said it.  That, plus it goes with the early posts in my super-long series on The Movement of God, which will eventually build all the way up to the NT.

Us NT folks can't ever forget the OT, folks.

Huh.  I guess this post was pretty much the best of my Google Reader, after all.  Go figure!
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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."

-- Isaac Newton