November 27, 2010

#SBL10 Highlights

Chronologically, natch:

First off, at ETS (the week before Thanksgiving week) Michael Licona spoke about his new book The Resurrection of Jesus:  A New Historiographical Approach.  I missed that session, unfortunately, but bought the book.  It's an absolute pleasure to read, and I'll probably blog more about that real soon.

Nick Perrin responded to Darrell Bock & Robert Webb about their IBR Jesus book, Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus, and about historiography and the gospels in general.  Among his other comments, Nick said that he'd like to see more constructive historical work and less defensiveness.  Amen, a thousand times, amen.

NT Wright and two other guys argued pleasantly for a few hours, Friday morning.  I came in for about 15 minutes near the end, and pretty much confirmed that the whole "Justification" debate is almost purely semantical.  As is becoming increasingly common, the reformed gentlemen aren't defending scripture, but their own reformation-based traditions.  ((Dear God, thank you for the increasingly post-denominational nature of present day Christendom.))

Also at ETS, I found a wonderful little book called HISTORY-ies and fallacies, by reformed blogger Carl Trueman (subtitle:  Problems Faced in the Writing of History).  I hadn't realized it, but Carl's a Church Historian, who apparently specializes in John Calvin.  Well, wonders never cease.  Considering the above paragraphs, however, I must wonder if Trueman considered that he's implicitly also defending our right to do [with the Gospels] that which his tradition would seem to prefer that we NOT do - namely, Writing History.

Ah well.  So much for ETS.  ;-)

The IBR meeting kicked off SBL Friday night with a message much discussed on other blogs.  (Check my reader.)  It was great.  In response, Mike Bird was very entertaining.  Personally, I think Wright's correct that conservatives these days largely miss the Kingdom in speaking, but I think we miss it in practice, far more.  I tried to press Tom & Mike to consider anachronism - how are we missing, in spoken rhetoric, that larger sense of the Kingdom which only recently became missing in practice?  But that night - as, probably, now - I wasn't able to express myself well enough to be understood.

At any rate, the main weakness of Tom's message was a lack of brass tacks.  Precisely what, Dr. Wright, are you proposing that we should actually do?  I don't think anyone knew.  And I suppose that's how Tom wants it... for now.

On Saturday, Amy-Jill Levine, discussing "nativity myth" in Matthew's Gospel, remarked that if the so-called Star of Bethlehem was anything, it was an angel.  An astronomical star could not only not lead them to a house, it could not stop above the house, or the whole thing would be incinerated.  (Not to mention the whole Earth along with it, surely.)

Personally, I'd sure love to hear more "IF" statements like that from A.-J.  I keep hoping SOMEONE who's genuinely skeptical of the Gospels could try on the faith hat apply reason to it.  I don't think their conclusions would be like anything we've seen before.  And I'd LOVE to see what they came up with, from that perspective.

On Sunday, A.-J. responded to Bock, Webb & Craig Keener in the session about whether 'conservatives' and 'liberals' can engage with one another in the Historical Jesus enterprise.  For context, I refer you to Derek Leman's write-up.  Personally, as much as I enjoyed this entire session, it left me completely uninterested in attending any further HJ sessions for the rest of the SBL conference.

On that note, I must say I'm skeptical about Derek's reported discovery the next morning:  "the willingness to suspend many issues of “proving history” and to recreate the story of Jesus as best possible given the sources, not overly worrying about criteria that supposedly make for more or less likely history."  That sounds like just what I'm after, but I'm not sure what D's referring to.  One particular paper?  Or the fact that John's Gospel is officially "in play" now, for critical scholarship.  (What was it, Derek?)

Anyway, still on Saturday, I moved on to rediscover why a room full of Classicists can be so mentally and emotionally bracing, when the topic is ancient history.  Erich Gruen expressed skepticism about Philo's claim that Caligula ordered all those statues to be sent towards Judea - could he really have been so naive?  In her response, Tessa Rajak confessed feeling a temptation to tell Eric "truth is stranger than fiction" and to leave it at that!

That one brief moment was the most memorable sound bite of the whole week.  She didn't leave it alone, of course.  One more reason I love sitting in on the Philo/Josephus group(s).

Sunday night was the Bibliobloggers' get together at Gibney's pub, and it was easily the social highlight of my week.  I saw several folks from last year's SBL, and met a few for the first time, including a Bird, a Barber, a Platypus, and an, uh, Aubrey.  Among others.  I also met some new (?) folks whose blogs I've not read yet (got to catch up!) But I can't figure out how Philip J. Long and I missed each other for a full week.  Oh.  Maybe because I decided to stick with Gospels and Classics, and Philip was probably in Acts & Epistles all week.  That could explain it.

This being my second Big Bible Rodeo, it was nice to have scholars like Ken Schenck & Chris Tilling give me genuinely warm smiles and just say, "Hey, Bill".  You know, like they know me.  (!)  And Michael Barber (don't hold this against him) said to a colleague, "Bill's done some good work."  Albeit bloggership isn't scholarship, but that was very gracious on Michael's part.  Encouraging, to say the least.  I should start doing some more...

Again, on Monday, another two or three dozen SBL bloggers ordered lunch in the Hyatt, after which most of us met up at the session on Blogging and Online Publication.  (For all the latest links, see McGrath, here.)  It was the first time I knew all five presenters personally, and - as Mark Goodacre also remarked - it was the first time I completely agreed with everything I'd heard from a panel.  Overall, an utterly delightful three hours.  (Yes, we ran long.  Go figure!)

I'm skipping plenty of other interesting bits from various sessions and personal meetings, of course.  But as promised, these are the highlights.  And somehow, for me personally, the best presentation of all happened to come in the last paper of the last session on the last day.

On Tuesday morning, Steve Mason talked about doing history from narrative in Josephus.  Using a test case from Josephus' War (2.499ff) about Cestius Gallus' retreat from Jerusalem (AD 66), Mason illustrated the difference between "High School History", and "Critical History", and... a third category he's promoting, the name of which I forget, but the practice of which I'm very eager to see advance.

Essentially, Mason suggested that arguing endlessly over historicity gets us nowhere, and stressed an emphasis on hypothetical reconstruction.  I can't hardly stand waiting for the book version to come out (2012?) so I can blog about it.  But I'll have to.  You'll still be reading me two years from now, I trust.  (!?!)

I also tweeted quite a few times from the conference, but sometimes forgot the hashtag.  To see it all, find me on Twitter.  Or Facebook.  Yes, you should be on Facebook.  So you can friend me.  :-)

That's all I've got.  I bought five other books that I may mention someday.  And I may have come to a decision or three that I'll blog about soon, as well.  However soon soon may be.  (Now's a great time to subscribe to this blog, so you don't miss a thing.)

Thanks for reading, dear reader.  But thanks most of all to my dear wife for giving me a week to go play in Scholarpalooza.  It was not only tons of fun, but I obviously learned a lot.  Like how even Biblical Scholars disagree on how to pronounce their own trademark terms.

She says:  Sep-TOO-a-gint?

He says:  SEP-twa-gint?

Let's call the whole thing off.  ;-)

November 22, 2010

Gosh-darn conservative Jesus scholars!

You who argue so diligently that content in the Gospels is or may be reliable - since you affirm historicity, why don't you write history?

You almost tempt me to become as skeptical as you all.

November 20, 2010

Pauline-Jesus Theology

I don't care if this breaks any category restrictions.  I still think it's all true.  Anyway, here it is:

If Paul ever said anything that properly describes or prescribes what the Christian Life is supposed to be like, then that is what Jesus must have lived like, because Jesus of Nazareth is the only human being who has ever successfully lived that kind of a life.

Whatever he did there, he did to the Glory of God.  His was the most excellent way.  He found inside his members the laws of sin and death, but praise be to God, there was no condemnation within him!  His mind was set on the spirit (he was a beggar for God's spirit, after all) and he found life and peace.  His spirit did not war against his flesh, but God's Spirit testified with his spirit that GOD was his father!  And if he was a child, he was also an heir.

And so, from some age going forward, Jesus - IN Nazareth - was never alone.  If he suffered, he suffered with God.  If he gloried, then he gloried with God.  At some point he heard all creation groaning for redemption, and the Spirit groaned with it.  He saw God's people in Nazareth, all around him.  But he did not see God's direct dominion over each of their lives.  Yet, Jesus hoped for what he did not yet see.  He lived at peace with all people.  He grew in favor with both God and man.  Yet he made of himself nothing.  But he yearned for the Kingdom of God.

That's a small sampling of what my theology tells me - via Paul - that Jesus' life here simply must have been like.  HE actually lived by the first two commandments.  HE bore his own burdens as well as the burdens of others.  HE thought always upon that which was lovely, pure, noble, true, excellent and worthy of praise.  And there is so much more we could say.


Now, then.  Years later, Paul caught onto all that, about Jesus, found some people who took Jesus in Spirit into themselves, and then Paul told them (essentially), go and do likewise.

But in Nazareth, for those three decades before he got famous, Jesus the carpenter, the son of the carpenter...

Lived a life that was perfectly pleasing to God.

November 15, 2010


This week, either at ETS, IBR or SBL, I hope to find faith-based, non-defensive, historical investigation of the Gospels that aims at reconstructing events for their own sake.

I don't necessarily expect to find a lot that's much like what I just described.  But I'm eager to be very pleasantly surprised.

Either way, I'll definitely keep you posted.  So, stay tuned...

November 14, 2010


The last time I updated my Shared Items was on October 1st, or approximately 4900 items ago.  I've been checking the reader - I just haven't checked all of it every day.  For the past six weeks, I've picked up a second job AND started tutoring at night.  At least today marks our last soccer game (I've been coaching 11 yo's).

I need a vacation.  Or at least, something like one.

See y'all at SBL.

November 8, 2010


Some new plans seem to be working out. I may have a friend's vacant rent house for the week, less than 10 minutes east of downtown.

That means the good news is, if you're going to SBL, it looks like I WILL see you there. And you're welcome to stop by. Of course the bad news, to no one's surprise, is that there will NOT be a kegger. If you consider that bad news. ;-)

However, I have just heard that there maaaay be a biblioblogging soiree of some sort, Sunday night. We shall see...

November 7, 2010

Help Request

Does anyone need a roommate for ETS/SBL... or want to donate something towards my rent money for seven nights in a hotel?

Just thought I'd check.  My ATL trip's looking questionable, but something may still work out.  The flight I've already booked can be converted into a voucher towards next year's conference.  It's the rest of my financing that's looking tight.  Sorry to poor mouth.  It's been tight all around, yes, I know.

Again, I'm just checking.  If anyone wants to help, use email and/or the donate button to contact me privately.

But if you're not sure about me as a roommate, I promise, I don't snore.  Much.  ;-)

November 4, 2010

The Movement of God - 24

The Tabernacle's mobility was not simply pragmatic.  When God began to replace Mt. Sinai by dictating instructions for an elaborate man-made structure, God was sacrificing a bit.  Sinai was God-made.  Sinai burned with fire and reached up to heaven.  Sinai made his holiness clear to all Israel.

To give up such strengths in his first PLACE since Eden, God must have stood to gain something else in the exchange.

Certainly, if Israel was going to move on to Canaan, they would have to leave Sinai eventually.  Obviously, God wanted to go with them.  However, the Tabernacle's mobility was not simply expedient.  When God decided his house on Earth was going to have the ability to move around, that decision was NOT primarily focused on accommodating the needs of his people.

It would seem there was something about Motion that GOD desired to see expressed in the nature of his Earthly Home.  It would seem God wanted to see his home have a way to be moved... by Him.

The Tabernacle goes back to the first thing we noted, in Eternity past.  God moves.  God is moving.  God is always at rest, but God is always in motion as well.  The Movement of God on the Earth is as old as the Spirit's first fluttering over the waves.  God is dynamic.  God does not change, but God instigates change.  God creates.  God makes Life.  God calls forth multiplication.

God acts within History.

Although God does not change, although Eden was built to last, although God's Law continues to stand, although God still wants ALL the things God has wanted since always... God's very being is also dynamic.

The IAMWHOAM moved his Jacob to Egypt, moved his Moses to Sinai, and moved his people - before they were punished - to a whole year of wanderings.  Then God moved his own Earthly home... and came to live in a tent.  And by doing that, God made it clear that He Himself had the power - and reserved the prerogative - to pack up and pick up at any time He desired and to move on along!

It was God who broke camp, at Mount Sinai, because HE felt the time had arrived when his Testimony was ready to be carried forwards.  For the Movement of God is when God moves, and that is all that matters.

So then, what was the Tabernacle?

God had wanted to make manifest an Earthly rendition of His one holy place and yet, perhaps because Earth was still NOT Heaven, God also wanted to stay free to move.  And so, God made a way to do both.

In the form of the Tabernacle, beginning there in the Nomadic wanderings of Israel, the - take note - THE very Movement of God, on the face of the Earth... did two things.

It continued.  And, to all human awareness, it began.

To be continued...

November 3, 2010

When Joseph heard Archelaus... (2 of 2)

According to Matthew, who should Joseph have thought was the ruler of Galilee, when he chose to move there instead of to Judea?

This is not a simple situation to suss out.  (See part one.)  We know that Archelaus was officially sole ruler of both Judea & Galilee until Caesar ruled differently, and the Emperor's ruling did not come until October or November of 4 BC (after Varus' war was wrapped up, Philip had sailed to Italy late in the season, and Caesar had deliberated some more).  In other words, from late March of 4 BC until the end of the year, no one in Palestine had any reason to think Archelaus was not ruling Galilee, as well as Judea.

Now, Matthew and most of his readers certainly knew what happened later on - that Archelaus, Antipas & Philip returned from Rome early in 3 BC having each received only 1/3 of the Kingdom.  Furthermore, Matthew draws a definite contrast here between Judea and Galilee, almost as if he's deliberately reminding us (perhaps only with his subtext) that we know why Galilee turned out to be safe, after all.  But at face value, Matthew's use of "Judea" seems very odd.  If Joseph departed the night Herod died, and (most likely) reached the outskirts of Judea just after Passover, then Joseph should have been fully aware that Galilee was also within the jurisdiction of Archelaus the horrible.

Once more, the question at hand is this:  according to Matthew, who should Joseph have thought was the ruler of Galilee?  The answer must be:  Archelaus.  That is, according to Matthew, Joseph was afraid to go into Judea AND he had not considered Galilee EITHER, because, of course, Archelaus was ruling there also.

This brings us to Matthew's point.  The dream was necessary.  Having been instructed ('warned' is a poor translation of χρηματισθεὶς here, and an editorial completely unnecessary, because Joseph was already afraid.  The word simply means receiving a divine message, as from an oracle) in a dream, Joseph went to Galilee, a bit further from Archelaus' center of power, which was Judea.

By any reading, it should already have been apparent that Joseph would not have gone to Galilee without having that dream.  But by reconstructing the details - and assuming that all Matthew's statements are entirely accurate - we see more clearly why Joseph needed the dream in the first place.

Of course, if anything Matthew said is non-factual, then the whole thing might be hooey.  But if taken at face value, it all actually fits.  And it fits very well.  That's worth considering.


November 2, 2010

The Calf-Path

A must read, and always a good re-read.  By Sam Walter Foss:

One day, through the primeval wood, a calf walked home, as good calves should; But made a trail all bent askew, a crooked trail as all calves do.  Since then three hundred years have fled, and, I infer, the calf is dead.  But still he left behind his trail, and thereby hangs my moral tale.

The trail was taken up next day, by a lone dog that passed that way.  And then a wise bell-wether sheep, pursued the trail o'er vale and steep; and drew the flock behind him too, as good bell-wethers always do. And from that day, o'er hill and glade, through those old woods a path was made.

And many men wound in and out, and dodged, and turned, and bent about; and uttered words of righteous wrath, because 'twas such a crooked path.  But still they followed - do not laugh - the first migrations of that calf.  And through this winding wood-way stalked, because he wobbled when he walked.

This forest path became a lane, that bent, and turned, and turned again.  This crooked lane became a road, where many a poor horse with his load, toiled on beneath the burning sun, and traveled some three miles in one.  And thus a century and a half, they trod the footsteps of that calf.

The years passed on in swiftness fleet.  The road became a village street; and this, before men were aware, a city's crowded thoroughfare.  And soon the central street was this, of a renowned metropolis; And men two centuries and a half, trod in the footsteps of that calf.

Each day a hundred thousand rout, followed the zigzag calf about; and o'er his crooked journey went, the traffic of a continent.  A Hundred thousand men were led, by one calf near three centuries dead.  They followed still his crooked way, and lost one hundred years a day;  For thus such reverence is lent, to well established precedent.

A moral lesson this might teach, were I ordained and called to preach;  For men are prone to go it blind, along the calf-paths of the mind;  And work away from sun to sun, to do what other men have done.  They follow in the beaten track, and out and in, and forth and back, and still their devious course pursue, to keep the path that others do.

They keep the path a sacred grove, along which all their lives they move. but how the wise old wood gods laugh, who saw the first primeval calf!  Ah! many things this tale might teach - but I am not ordained to preach.

November 1, 2010

When Joseph heard Archelaus... (1 of 2)

According to Matthew, Joseph & Mary left Egypt the night King Herod died, traveled towards home, but were frightened because "Archelaus was reigning over Judea".  Even accepting the miraculous departure, there are several odd things about this return.  At least three, in particular:

First, which son of Herod did Joseph think would be ruling?  Second, why was it Archelaus in particular that caused Joseph to fear?  Third, who did Joseph think was in charge of Galilee, at that time?

To the first question:  If the Massacre of the Innocents took place before mid-6 BC, Joseph would have remembered Herod's famous son Antipater as the chosen successor.  If Joseph & Mary lived in Alexandria, or anywhere that heard big news from Judea, they would also have learned about Antipater's imprisonment (for deviously sending two of his brothers to the executioner) but probably did not know which remaining son (Archelaus, Antipas or Philip) would be taking Antipater's place.  As if anyone did, before Herod died.  (The choice of Antipas, confirmed by Caesar over the winter, may not yet have been made public knowledge, and Herod changed his mind almost as soon as Caesar's approval arrived.)

Thus, it actually makes sense that the succession of Archelaus would have been news to Joseph.

To the second question:  All that we know about Archelaus suggests the young prince had virtually no reputation whatsoever around the Kingdom before his announcement.  Optimistic crowds entreated him before Passover and all indications are that these crowds held at least modest hopes for a kinder more generous King.  Why, then, could Joseph have been afraid?  The only reason we can supply is that Archelaus presided over a massacre of 3,000 pilgrims that year, on the Passover Day.  In that light, the text of Mt.2:22 could shift slightly towards a very strong sense of ἀντὶ - on behalf of, or in place of - meaning, for example, something like, 'much in the way of'.*

Thus, it was probably not so much that Archelaus ruled which frightened Joseph, as much as how he was ruling.  He was ruling ἀντὶ Herod the Great.

That's two down.  But our third question may be the most difficult.

To be continued...

*Note: Matthew's other uses of ἀντὶ are also very strong. An eye ἀντὶ an eye, a tooth ἀντὶ a tooth. Pay the tax ἀντὶ [both] me and you.  [I came] to give my soul as ransom ἀντὶ many.  (Mt. 5:38, 17:27, 20:28)  It's not just "okay, now it's your turn".  If ἀντὶ means "in the place of" it means fully in place of, or as if he were him.
Recent Posts
Recent Posts Widget
"If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient observation than to any other reason."

-- Isaac Newton