October 30, 2011

Back Links and Banter (October 2011)

Here's some worthwhile NT and/or History material elsewhere, recently (not necessarily appearing in Tom Verenna's November BS Carnival) with banter and counterpoint, of course:

Ken Shenck began blogging about Scot McKnight's King Jesus Gospel, and it's fantastic so far.  Shenck's better than most about sticking with his blog series.  Stay tuned to Ken's blog for the rest.  Speaking of Scot's new book, Derek Ouellette offers some interesting observations about McKnight's view of things as compared with NT Wright's.  Speaking of NTW, Nijay Gupta began reviewing Simply Jesus, pointing out that it's a simplification of Wright's own work, so that it could have been better named "Withouth-going-into-all-the-details-Jesus".  Heh.  Still, it should be good.  I'll get to it on my Kindle after I've finished Richard Bauckham's A Short Introduction to Jesus.  Boy, the Lord can still sell those books, can't he!  Don't even try to keep count...

Brian LePort interviewed his fellow Portlander Matt Mikalatos (Part 1, Part 2).  Coincidentally, I just finished re-reading Imaginary Jesus out loud to my wife and kids.  We all thoroughly enjoyed it, and I think the kids learned a lot.  To my wife's comment that she found the end a bit disappointing, I said, "Well, it's easier to tear down than it is to build up."  Still, there's a lot of ground left to clear.  Anyway, Matt, I'm a big fan.  Thanks for giving us something to share as a family.

Over at RBL, Richard Horsley reviewed 2009's big IBR 'HJ' release, Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus. In a strong essay, well worth reading, Horsley commended Robert Webb & Scot McKnight but noted several areas where Darrel Bock & the rest need to make serious improvements. Webb's stuff is without question the best in the book, and I fervently hope the others all pay close attention to Horsley's advice... especially if they're planning to do any more historical work on events in the Gospels.

Speaking of theologians and Gospel events, Daniel Kirk found another reason why we need multiple voices in the Four Gospels to show us the multiple meanings of Jesus' life and teachings.  Amen.  Daniel also spoke against people who want a harmonized fifth Gospel to promote "the one meaning" of Jesus' teachings.  Well, I must confess that never occurred to me.  I'm grateful.  But as regards Daniel's hopes for scholarship inspiring action, I humbly suggest a historical synopsis of Jesus' life and ministry should primarily inspire action, not simply further interpretation.  At any rate, it's a good reminder of why theologians dislike "harmonies", and I don't disagree.

Last but not least, Brian Small pointed out a really impressive feat.  Joel Shorey must have rehearsed for months in order to recite Hebrews.  I'd love to see more people do things like this, but I'd recommend Reader's Theater instead.  (Read the whole letter, but with great feeling.  Why spend energy remembering lines, if you can focus instead on the content and delivering it well.  And yes, I've done this.  It's tough enough, without memorizing.)  Nevertheless, if you have as much talent and time on your hands as Joel obviously did, go on and memorize.  Again, this is a really amazing accomplishment.  Check it out

BRIEFLY:  Irene Hahn drew my attention to a new book on Caesars' Wives.  Note the plural appostrophe. *  David Lamb said what I thought ages and ages ago when I quit reading Study Bibles' study notes. * Omnes Viae is still really cool! * Jona Lendering summarized his entire (new) book, Classics in Decline. * Larry Hurtado pointed out that HJ studies finally and rightfully have a "very Jewish" Jesus, but still don't focus very much on Jesus' own relationship to God. * And the Godfather, Jim West, featured Amy-Jill Levine's just out project, The Jewish Annotated New Testament.  I am definitely going against David Lamb to read this one, which should be here by Tuesday!

More to come, month by month...

Stick around!

October 12, 2011

Did Adam fail to lead?

Of course he did. And so did Eve.(*)

That is, I mean, if you define “lead” as deliberately setting a positive example for one’s companions. On the other hand, if “lead” means to “dominate” or “seize control over”, then... well, actually in that case I must absolutely note that he did fail at that also. Of course, in the first sense, Adam’s failure was regrettable. In the second, highly laudable... yes, despite the results.

Now, what is my point? Why bother with this today, really?

Because it’s a difficult thing to successfully influence others without taking control.

However, to the underlying question about Genesis 3, why did Adam’s sin cause the fall? Was the MAN more responsible than the woman, for their mutual sin? Historically speaking, there probably was that patriarchial assumption among the original storytellers and story-hearers. But in all honesty, there’s probably also a communal aspect of ancient life that's also assumed in the story - one that we individualistic westerners (internet readers, especially) may genuinely be missing.

One naturally wonders, if Adam had eaten first, would Eve have immediately fallen? (IDK, but...) From a storytelling standpoint, having the woman eat first satisfies BOTH the communal AND patriarchal expectations of the ancient world. Objectively, therefore, we might honestly speculate that the timing [of sin's consequence having arrived] wasn't entirely because Adam was male. Even considering the ancient Jewish mindset, the other aspect might deserve equal consideration - that Adam was the other half of their social unit, and when Adam ate forbidden fruit, sin had total sway over their entire group, corporately. Not to speculate too hard, but it's good food for thought.

At any rate, none of that is my point, today.  This is: It’s a difficult thing to successfully influence others without taking control. It may sometimes get easier in situations where mutual influence is the custom... but even then, even these days, results are still known to vary.

Dear Lord, open our eyes to what your kind of "leadership" truly is.

(*) Caveat 1: this post inspired by the blogosphere's thorough trouncing of some complimentarian blowhard, about a week ago, a trouncing possibly more set against his fundamentalism than his patriarchalism.

(*) Caveat 2: see my view on Genesis AS IF History.

October 11, 2011

All Roads

The Peutinger Table is now online and interactive!  What is it?  An ancient map. Sort of.

Basically, the Peutinger Table was a picographic route finder for using Rome's highways.  The famous copy we possess is 4th century, but older models were used in the 1st century.  In the PT itself, the cartography was cartoonishly (and deliberately) painted askew, so that roads, cities and mileage data could all be fit together sequentially.

The new site is called Omnes Viae, and it remains absolutely the coolest thing I saw all day. Here's what the PT lists for an inclusive route Ab 'Athenas' ad 'Philippis'. The milage may not be 100% accurate, but it's accurate to what the PT said.  And that's very interesting indeed.

H/T Deirdre Good, the Non-Sausage (on 9/7/11)
PS:  Yes, I am enjoying getting caught up on my reader.  Thank you, Google, again.

CK Barrett's obit writer confused me

when he said, "but a historian" and "theological character". Here's the full quote, from last Tuesday's Guardian:
“Barrett saw himself as a historian rather than a doctrinal theologian – but a historian with a sensitivity for the religious and theological character of the texts not always so evident as the discipline has become more secularised.”
Putting aside for the moment whether the dichotomy of "historian" vs "theologian" is even appropriate, it's the latter part of the quote that I honestly found so confusing.  First, for the NT texts to have such "character" presumably means that the texts themselves can be characterized as religious and theological. Okay, obviously the NT texts are nearly everywhere characterized that way. But a text itself isn't actually "religious".  It's the people's use of the text that's religious.  Thus, the praise here isn't for being sensitive to the text, but for sensing how most people feel about it.

That's not very scholarly, and yet it's being made to sound as if it were.

Please note, I mean no disrespect to the dearly departed Dr Barrett.  It's the Guardian's phrase.  In this case, the obit writer has chosen to praise someone for sensitivity to the "character of the texts", but what he really means is that Dr Barrett was sensitive to Christian bias and doctrine. Again, this makes no comment on the scholar himself, but I must note he's being praised here in a way that makes political sensitivity sound like textual sensitivity.

It's a shrewd phrase, and the obit naturally is going for positive spin. But my real target here isn't even the writer. My real complaint is that this type of phrasing feels very unoriginal. The writer's not really going out on a limb very far. This type of compliment is probably typical. It sounds vaguely like other vaguely similar statements I've heard many times before.

Btw, the term "theological" is a bit squishier. Strictly, of course, it may only mean that the NT texts are about God. But seriously, what professional scholar can read the NT and ever NOT be sensitive to that simple and obvious fact?  No, "theological" here most likely takes the colloquial meaning, so that to say the NT texts have a "theological character" is to say that the content of those texts are extra sacred because they've been used to make much theological doctrine. The obit writer, again, is saying Prof. Barrett should be much praised because he studied the text but *also* remembered what Christians believe about it.

And none of that is my most serious beef.  Apologies to CK's memory, but he's absolutely none of my real concern here.  This is.

Why can't the writer say that taking the text seriously as a historian INCLUDES taking its theological claims seriously?  Or why haven't I heard anyone write about any scholar who "takes a historical approach that considers the supernatural content of scripture with assumed historicity, for the sake of reconstructing events".  As far as I've noticed, that last sentence probably wouldn't be formed by any writer but me, and I myself ain't much to brag about, yet. Still, there's a blind spot here. That's all I'm trying to say.

To be fair, the obit writer's very next words are, "The relationship of theology and history in New Testament theology is at issue in many of his articles". Indeed, the precise nature of that relationship is the major question still. Obviously. But a truly academic approach would seem to require embracing that the text itself states things which are challenging and often difficult to believe. It does no good to falsely rope off certain elements of the text and preserve them under a "theological" banner.

Unless "I and the Father are One" has historical value, it has no value at all.

At any rate, if scholars are to be scholars, perhaps they should pay less attention to the pressures of religious authorities, and be more sensitive to the text itself. Not to certain aspects of the text, or traditions about the text, or ways in which religious theologians have characterized the text. They should be sensitive to the text itself.

To end with this post's title again, I started out being genuinely confused by the article, a week ago now.  But more and more, when I hear this “historian” versus “theologian” type of language being appealed to, I realize how much we’re constrained by our politics. And that is not at all academic.

October 8, 2011

The Approachable Jesus

He had such bossy disciples, and supplicants.  Try that with anyone else!  Or don't.

Read the Gospels and count how often people just walk up and demand his immediate action on some point or issue.  (No seriously, please do.  I haven't got time to be thorough just now.)  Maybe most of these commands Jesus doesn't obey, but I think some he does.  (Update Pending...)

In general, perhaps, the ones that got into the record are the ones where the contrast was instructive.  "Lord, do such and such."  And Jesus No, I tell you, and here's why.  But no matter how many NO answers he gave them, they kept coming back with more direct, bossy instructions.

Now, to be fair, this may have been partly because of a cultural difference, a sort of ancient 'blue collar' or poverty mindset that cut straight to the point.  Some demands from the twelve may be due to their heady position as his inner circle.  (Note to self: some time, research whether Kings and Emperors' counselors also gave 'advice' in the imperative mood.)

Or - as I quickly admit that I'd very much like to believe - was this also just something about JESUS?  Did he make the disciples, and even folks he'd just met, feel somewhat empowered?  Was this part of his reputation?  A reason why crowds followed him with so many requests?  Was Jesus known for doing what people told him to do?  Or did Jesus' very presence give people the idea they should take genuine opportunity for initiative-taking?

Again, part of this is probably the ancient world being different from ours.  Kings and rulers may or may not have heard imperative 'advice' from advisors, but they certainly didn't have crowds of peons chasing after them issuing demanding 'suggestions' all the time.  Yes, most westernized, "civilized" folks have been pretty well tamed, and the natural bent for the rest of humanity isn't too far from *take what you can if they'll give it, demand things from everyone who doesn't punch you or threaten to*.

But still, people kept coming to Jesus.  They came and they came and they kept coming.  And they kept on demanding.

Even the disciples, who surely had the most opportunities to be shut down, to be gently scolded or not-too-subtly dressed down - not just on each point, but on the very attitude of attempting to share Jesus' own agenda setting decision power - not even the disciples seem to have stopped coming again and again with their bossy instructions for Jesus.  Despite all the times he rejected their points, point for point, in general, they kept on making suggestions.

I've known "christian" leaders who cast withering glances at people who even dared to ask whether they might suggest ideas toward future decisions.  I've seen both men and women in leadership use nonverbal cues like posture and feigned inattention, just to make clear that their position wasn't meant to be open for sharing with others.  In my own world, I've rarely seen anyone fail to get the point.  And in my visits to poverty-land, where the reaction is more public, harsher and quicker, even there the powerless one making suggestions learns pretty quick when the leader doesn't want her suggestions.

And yet Jesus, in the Gospels, kept on receiving these impositions.  Repeatedly.

It says one of two things.  Maybe both.  Either (1) Jesus somehow made it clear that he really didn't mind when the disciples were bossy like that, no matter how many times he rejected each specific demand.  Or (2) there must have been plenty of times when they told him their ideas and Jesus said "Sure.  Go ahead.  That sounds pretty good.  Do that."  Again, both could definitely be true.

At the very least, without any specific research today, here's a hypothesis I assume will hold true.

The fact that we have so many rejections on record proves that people didn't get tired of giving the Lord straight up orders.  Whether he gave in or rejected the majority, or if there is any discernible pattern... I'll hold off on attempting to figure that out.  But this one thing I do think must be clearly embraced.

He must have been one extremely approachable Lord.

And yes, he remained "leader".  Think about that, practically.  Obviously, no one held Jesus' agenda hostage with sniping, pouting or conniption fits.  He often made his opinions quite forcibly clear.  At the same time, however, evidently, Jesus remained immanently approachable.  Everyone obviously kept feeling free to express their opinions quite openly, right to the end.

What a man.  What a Lord.

What a loss.

What a goal.


October 6, 2011

Certain Men from James/Judea

If one gets the idea that Antioch wasn't overly fond of Jerusalem, then one should also conclude Antioch felt much the same way about James.  By the time of Acts 15, James was essentially head of the church in Jerusalem, and therefore any christian emissaries sent "from Judea" were highly likely to have been sent directly or indirectly "from James".  The same word "certain ones" (τινας, τινες, in Gal.2:12 as in Acts 15:1) is merely circumstantial, and doesn't prove my assertion, but the most logical guess is that these were the very same men.

Chronologically, this would mean that Antioch had gone unmolested by Judean controversy until these men came along.  Apparently Peter himself was the first one to visit, which seems fairly appropriate, and then while Peter was still there in Antioch, these "certain men" came to visit as well.  Again, this makes perfect sense.  Acts tells us that Peter encountered resistance after meeting Cornelius.  Paul tells us that an "circumcision party" was alive and well in Antioch on the day Paul rebuked Peter, and this "party" must have been the same group, who had just come up from Jerusalem.  It seems as if someone in the C party was deliberately following Peter, who very clearly was susceptible to their influence.

So, Paul says "men from James", instead of "men from Judea".  Well, Galatians pulls no punches anywhere, does it?  But for Luke to say, "men from Judea" may have been just a bare bit of diplomacy.  The obvious conclusion to draw here most likely correct.

In fact, the famous Judaizers (who went to Galatia) are most likely also to be identified with these very same men from Judea.  At the very least, we know of no other such devouts from the C party who would travel as far as the 300+ miles to Antioch.  So, is it easier to suppose that these troublemakers at Antioch went back home from Antioch and then some other group of devout Judaizers left Judea and walked all the way into Pisidia?  Or is it easier to suppose that these "certain men" - who had come up from James/Judea, who had already caused such controversies in Antioch - that these were in fact the same "certain men" who went on through the Lion's Gate in Cilicia and found their way to the four very young churches of Southern Galatia.

This view simply makes good logistical sense, and I believe it makes the best sense of the evidence altogether.  These men, having just been daunted by Paul in Antioch, must have also heard about Galatia while in Antioch - for Paul had not yet testified about Gentile salvation in Jerusalem (Acts 15:3) - and these men there, in Antioch, evidently decided to move on and hope for better results with new Galatian believers than they'd been able to produce while in Syria.

Finally, this could also explain Paul's literary sequence in building up to the flashback in Gal.2.  It seems absolutely certain that these Judaizers had already told Galatia about Paul rebuking Peter... Paul's self defense proves they had tried to destroy Paul's reputation... but the news of the Council (2:1-10) would have been unknown to Galatia because the Council was happening at about the same time as the Judaizers were busily brandishing knives in Derbe, Lystra, Iconium and Pisidian Antioch.

To wrap it all up:  Paul's "men from James" were the same men as Luke's "men from Judea".  The Council of Acts 15 is absolutely the focus of Gal.2:1-10, and Paul's letter was written to Southern Galatia very soon after the Council had ended.  Paul & Barnabas got back to Antioch, parted ways, and then Paul somehow heard that Galatians were in trouble.  He sent the letter ahead with Luke - and apparently Titus as well - and those two were probably also keeping Jerusalem's letter in their 'pocket' for back-up.  Luke & Titus went on then to find their pre-arranged rendezvous at "Troy", to wait there while Paul & Silas headed for follow up visits in Galatia, having deliberately given the churches some brief time to digest and respond to the letter(s) and letter carrier(s).

That's the simplest way I can see - not to harmonize seemingly divergent texts (blech!), but - to synchronize all the accounts.  Or, in other words, that's my brief sketch at a historical reconstruction.

Think upon it...

October 5, 2011

When to Quit

When I've done all the good I can do, in a place, with a group.  When the even better I'd like to be doing isn't working for someone who's throwing their weight around.  When the road seems blocked up ahead and I struggle a while and can't find any way to get through.  When I'm absolutely convinced there's no more chances for me to keep working on making things better.  When the people around me want something better for themselves, personally, rather than what seems (to me) to be best for the common good, long term.

Sadly, it's become quite a pattern in my life.  In multiple cities, and churches, and jobs.  I don't regret any decisions I've made to quit.  Not one.  What kills me is the left behind opportunities, the wistful longing, the sick feeling of loss, and the knowing.  That if so-and-so had just listened to me, had just let me keep going, then we could have broken on through to a whole new level of awesome, but for various reasons, too often, my particular vision touched things that they wouldn't let go of.

Maybe if I was better at being cool, kissing up, or playing along.  Maybe then I'd quit less.  Maybe if I could chill out more and not push the pedal down all the way to the floor.  Maybe if I cared less about making things better, and better, and better.  Maybe if I didn't always want to do something else MORE.

But if I was better at all of those things, I'd be worse.  If I was like that, then I wouldn't be able to bring change.  And what purpose is there in belonging to something that does not want to change, to improve things?

Somewhere, someday.  Maybe.  I'll get to make awesome.

I just need the right mix and timing.

Anon, then...

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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