Thursday, January 29, 2009

E. P. Sanders's Academic Autobiography Back online

I am happy to announce that Ed Sanders's "Academic Autobiography" is now back online:

Comparing Judaism and Christianity: An Academic Autobiography
A paper read at “New Views of First-Century Jewish and Christian Self-Definition: An International Conference in honor of E. P. Sanders”, April, 2003
E. P. Sanders
April-May 2004

If you have not read it before, I strongly recommend it. If you have already read it, read it again.

Kenneth Clark Lectures 2009: David Parker

Earlier this week, I announced the good news that this year's Clark lecturer at Duke is David Parker. The official announcement is now available over on Duke's Divinity School website:

Kenneth W. Clark Lectures 2009: Dr David Parker

John Fenton: Church Times Obituary

This appeared a couple of weeks ago, but it was then hidden behind the subscription wall whereas it is now available for all to view, from the Church Times:

Obituary: Canon John Fenton
Leslie Houlden

All the other obituaries and reflections on Canon Fenton's life, including my own, are found under this label: John Fenton.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Biblical Studies Bulletin is back

The Biblical Studies Bulletin from Grove Books is back online with new content:

Biblical Studies Bulletin

I had thought that there had not been any new issues for a year, but the good news is that the latest editions are now available online, as follows:

BSB 47 (March 2008)
BSB 48 (June 2008)
BSB 49 (September 2008)
BSB 50 (December 2008)

It is now edited by Dr Richard Briggs of Cranmer Hall, St John's College, Durham University.

Monday, January 26, 2009

2009 Kenneth Clark Lectures at Duke: David Parker

Details of this year's Kenneth W. Clark lectures at Duke have been announced, and I am particularly happy with their choice of lecturer this year:

Textual Scholarship and New Testament Studies
Dr David Parker (Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology and Director of the Institute for Textual Scholarship, University of Birmingham)

Tuesday February 10 2009, 12:20pm, "New Testament Textual Scholarship Today"

Wednesday February 11 2009, 8.30am, "Using Textual Research"

Where: Westbrook 0016

Cost: Free

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Letters from an aging Käsemann

In today's Historical Jesus class, we turned to Rudolf Bultmann and Ernst Käsemann. In preparing for class, especially classes I have often taught before, I like to try to read something new that will stimulate my thinking and keep the teaching as fresh as possible. Before today's class, I read some letters written by Ernst Käsemann not long before his death in 1998. They are reproduced in an article in Anglican Theological Review in that year, in the following piece:

A tribute to Ernst Käsemann and a theological testament
Paul F. M. Zahl, Anglican Theological Review 80/3 (1998)

The free online reproduction at is of course welcome but the quality of the reproduction is often appalling, and the reader has to emend the text as s/he goes. These letters, sent to Zahl, and discussing his dissertation, are often fascinating and they give one a feeling of the great man's personality. This section is rather Pauline in its defence of his reputation (with the FindArticle anomalies emended):
One of your examiners refers to my own "weakness" in making myself understood, especially in respect to my preaching. On that point I wish to protest energetically. When I was a professor, I tore up hundreds of sermons that I had worked on in earlier times when I served in the parish. I preached in those days at least four times a month. Seldom then did I preach to congregations that did not fill the church, which sat 1200. Seldom did I address a Bible study that did not have fewer than 200 participants. Critical services during the time of the Confessing Church were taken by myself. Once at a "ChurchDay" ("Kirchentag") we had to shut the doors of the hall after 7000 listeners crowded in. Later, over a 20-year period, my colloquia were the best attended, after Barth's, in Germany. In the early days (i.e., when EK was pastor in Gelsenkirchen-author), the academics had to come to the miners and steelworkers! The Gestapo was always there, taking notes when I was in the pulpit. All this is not to boast. It is simply to say that my so-called "difficulty in making myself understood" seems to have resulted in my having opponents among the Nazis, among the Pietists, among colleagues and among laity. Rumour has always accompanied me, whether it was Nazis who saw in me a "betrayer of the people" or whether it was Pietists who saw in me a concealed atheist.

Had I not become a follower of St. Paul or had I suppressed the scandal of the Gospel, I would probably have become bored. Professors have their crosses to bear, too. In any event I was asked constantly to give beyond what I could. I could not see my way to living a right middle-class life in a world that had never felt the hangman's noose. Anyway I have almost turned 90. My portrait shouldn't be over-painted.
The whole piece is delightful and will leave you wanting to read more.

Review of Biblical Literature Blog

I would like to join the many other bloggers who have welcomed the arrival today of the new blog for the SBL Review of Biblical Literature. Regular readers will be familiar with my updates of the latest New Testament entries in the RBL. I am now happy to discontinue those updates. If anyone wants to keep abreast of the latest from the RBL via their Reader, or on the web, you know where to go:

Review of Biblical Literature Blog

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Death of Daniel Goodman

I was very sorry to hear tonight of the death of Daniel Goodman, Bob D. Shepherd Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Gardner-Webb University, aged 40. The Star (Cleveland, NC) has a tribute:

GWU professor remembered
Rebecca Clark
BOILING SPRINGS - Students, friends and co-workers remember Dr. Daniel Goodman as having a passion for learning, people and scriptures. The Gardner-Webb University campus was saddened Tuesday to learn of the unexpected death of the Divinity School professor . . . .

. . . . Goodman, 40, was professor and Bob D. Shepherd Chair of New Testament Interpretation and was part of the GWU faculty since 2003.
Gardner Webb University has also published a short tribute:

Gardner-Webb University Saddened by Sudden Death of Faculty Member
Dr. Dan Goodman of the School of Divinity Died Unexpectedly Today

There are blog tributes at Baptist Spirituality and elsewhere, with more to come, no doubt, over the next few days. I don't think I ever met Daniel, but I valued his contributions to NT scholarship (including a review of one of my books) and enjoyed corresponding with him. Our thoughts are with Daniel's family, friends and colleagues at this sad and difficult time.

Happy birthday, Albert Schweitzer

As regular readers may remember, I like to honour the birthday of Albert Schweitzer on January 14 1875 by remembering him in my Historical Jesus class as close as I can to the occasion. I will therefore be talking about the man today, and I hope to use a few clips from the web, which I will also blog here:

First, there is a short one minute celebration of Schweitzer's life on

Second, a remarkable French piece featuring a fairly lengthy interview with Schweitzer (in French) from Video Docteur Albert Schweitzer. It is apparently from 1961 and the quality is very good.

At about eight minutes in, you can watch the eighty-six year old Schweitzer playing the piano. One delightful thing about this footage is that there is a lot of humour -- Schweitzer comes across as a warm, friendly and funny person. Watch all the way to the end to see him waving at the camera as it departs in a boat.

If you would like to see film of the younger Schweitzer, you will have to make do with a reconstruction. This short clip from the Young Indiana Jones features Schweitzer at the piano, while Indiana Jones surveys his books, including Paul and his Interpreters:

Here is a second clip from the same episode, with Schweitzer on a boat with Indiana:

Here is a third clip, on a boat talking about "reverence for life":

And finally, there is a clip of Schweitzer receiving his honorary degree at Cambridge in 1955 from British Pathe News; you can download this in reasonable quality for free onto your computer, or you can pay for a high resolution version.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Memories of John Fenton

John Fenton, who died last week, was a major influence on my academic development and I would like to take a few lines to share some memories of a kind, scholarly and much underrated man. There are no major monographs by which he will be remembered (his most well known work is probably his very useful Penguin commentary on Matthew) but his influence as a scholar and a teacher on many was profound.

I can remember the first time I met him. It was October 1985, and it was my first week as a fresher in Oxford. I had been told to report to a certain Mrs. Fenton to join her New Testament Greek class. I found my way to Christ Church, met another clueless fresher there and she suggested that we knock on a large imposing door in Tom quad marked with "Fenton". Mrs Fenton was not there; we had come to the wrong place; but the door was answered by a tall gentleman in a cassock, with long white-hair, stooping a little, who seemed to be kind natured, and who turned out to be Canon Fenton. Most Oxford dons would have barked at our impertinence, but Canon Fenton offered some sympathy and suggested that we might find "Linda" (his wife, the Greek teacher) at a meeting in Regent's Park College intended for all Theology freshers. I never did meet Mrs. Fenton, and found my way into Mr Morgan-Wynne's class instead, but I would meet Canon Fenton again on many occasions, and that little bit of generosity to students nervous of Oxford's austerity made the place seem a bit less forbidding to those anxious newcomers.

I did not have to wait long to meet Canon Fenton properly (he was always "Canon Fenton" to his students). In that academic year, 1985-6, he was the "Catechist" at my college, Exeter. The Catechist would preach a handful of sermons in the chapel each year, and Canon Fenton's were always memorable. One in particular, on irony in Mark's Gospel, stayed with me. Its thesis sounded to me, in equal measure, to be astounding, preposterous and yet plausible. He began with a discussion of the apparent lack of humour in the New Testament, moving towards the dark comedy of Mark's Passion Narrative, concluding with the claim that the centurion's cry in Mark 15.39, "Truly, this is the son of God", should be read as sarcastic.* It was the first time I had heard anything like that and I can still hear the intonation in his voice, "Truly, this was the Son of God". I went to speak to him at the door of the college chapel after that sermon and made some ridiculous comments about a paperback I had seen but never read about the humour of Jesus. He listened and expressed interest and I felt the kind of thrill that some people would get from talking to a celebrity and finding that the celebrity was kind to them. I had read his Penguin commentary on Matthew from cover to cover while still at school, and talking to its real life author was so exciting that I phoned home to tell my mum the news.

In my second term in Oxford, Hilary 1986, Canon Fenton was my tutor for the Prelims paper on Mark's Gospel. I enjoyed this more than any other series of tutorials while I was in Oxford. For one thing, my earlier impressions of Canon Fenton were confirmed by the discovery that he was the most encouraging teacher imaginable. The Oxford tutorial system puts the undergraduate student, who has worked on a topic for a week (at best), in a room, alone, with a world expert. The student reads his or her essay and is then expected to defend it in the face of the tutor's cross-examination. I often used to find tutorials nerve-racking, but not with Canon Fenton. Several tutors would say nothing by way of encouragement after I had finished reading my essay, but Canon Fenton always began with something along the lines of , "What a super essay! Thank you very much." I can still feel the thrill of that first encouragement today. I came to look forward to it. I know that I was not alone; others told me of similar encouragement at the end of their readings, and how it boosted their confidence. After the initial encouragement, it would not be a cross-examination, and there would be no humiliation of the kind that characterized other teachers' methods. It was a discussion, and a most enjoyable discussion at that. I always had the impression that he was enjoying the tutorial as much as I was, and that he was keen to find out what kind of insights I might have to bring. Here was a tutor who seemed like he was genuinely interested in what one was saying.

His achievement in conveying that impression is all the more remarkable given the fact that I must have been just one student in the steady stream of undergraduates, one after another, in a given day. I would always arrive as one was leaving, and leave as the next one got to the top of the stairs. I noticed that he was always as kind to my fellow students as he was to me, though he would create the feeling that somehow we were in this battle together, burdened by knowledge of the truth in the face of a majority who simply didn't get it. I realized that Canon Fenton did not like evangelicals very much, and he showed little interest when I later attempted to engage him in conversation about the views of the new chaplain of Worcester College, who was the talk of the Theology faculty at that time.

I suppose that I was lucky to find myself on the same wavelength as Canon Fenton. I came to Oxford already under the influence of Michael Goulder, and so already a Q sceptic and already sympathetic to what I thought of as a radical approach to the New Testament. It seemed that my views aligned with Canon Fenton's on a week-by-week basis. I was delighted the week he said that it was time to study the parables, and the first thing he said was, "Yer've got to read Michael Goulder. I think he could be right." The last five minutes of the week's tutorial were always devoted to the following week's topic in this way. There would be no reading list, and only the most general essay title. "Write me an essay on the parables in Mark's Gospel. You'll have to read C. H. Dodd, but I think he's wrong. And a German chap called Jeremias. He's wrong too. But you might enjoy them."

Canon Fenton had a humble way of implying that if you agreed with him it was because you were clever, and you were in the club together, united against all these others who didn't really understand the issues properly. I remember the door closing once at the beginning of my tutorial just as the previous student was going down the stairs. Canon Fenton looked at me conspiratorially and said, "Nice chap that, but thick as two short planks." The only time I saw him irritated was on a similar occasion, when a rather over-confident, pushy, posh lad pressed Canon Fenton as he was leaving for a bit more critical feedback on his essay; Canon Fenton curtly mentioned a factual error in the essay that the student might wish to correct, and said no more. His teaching methods were, I suppose, inductive. They were about the mutual exchange of ideas and discussion about the primary text; they were not about revising drafts of papers.

I had a second full term of Canon Fenton in my second year. This was a wonderful bonus. My primary tutor at Exeter liked me to get exposure to as many different teachers as possible, and he had tried to get me another teacher for the course called "New Testament Theology". But when that fell through, I heard the happy news that I would be going back to Canon Fenton. In those days, "New Testament Theology" meant Paul and John (quite Bultmannian), and Canon Fenton was the ideal teacher -- he insisted on careful reading of the primary texts above everything else. My first essay was simply, "How does John differ from the Synoptics?" He told me to do two things: to read John's Gospel "lots of times", comparing it to the Synoptics, and to read Käsemann. I confess that I dug out Canon Fenton's own "New Clarendon" commentary on John, a book now sadly forgotten, and mined it for insights I might not have got on my own, and thus hoped to be hitting all the right notes in my paper. But the discussion focused entirely on Christology, and on Käsemann's Testament of Jesus with its characterization of John's "naïvely docetic" Jesus, which came out after Canon Fenton had finished writing his New Clarendon.

Here, as always, Canon Fenton had an instinct for where the debate on a given issue was located; he could always point you to the absolutely key piece or pieces of secondary literature. He never recommended survey pieces or introductory level books. In fact, he seldom recommended an article. It would always be a key book or two. When we got to the epistle to the Hebrews, he listed a few books, adding each time, "But they're wrong", concluding that the only person to get Hebrews right is Kümmel. "The problem is that the Germans aren't very interested in Hebrews because they can't find justification by faith in it."

Canon Fenton was always revising his opinions and you had the impression of someone for whom the learning experience was always ongoing. Sometimes he would pull out a new book, often one that he had been sent for review by JTS or Theology. I remember his exasperation with a book by Gerd Theissen on the miracles, which he lent me, saying with enjoyably faux humility, "Didn't understand a word of it. Hope you can explain it to me." At other times, a new book would thrill him and dominate his thinking. The most recent example of this that I know of was Douglas Geyer, Fear, Anomaly and Uncertainty in the Gospel of Mark, published in 2002. I had given a paper in Oxford on the Passion Narrative, a critique of John Dominic Crossan that I called "Prophecy Historicized or History Scripturalized?", and my friend Barbara, another Fenton student, had arranged a lunch beforehand, and had brought Canon Fenton over. It was wonderful to see him again after some years. He was now a bit deaf, but was able to hear my paper and to comment on it, pressing on me the importance of reading Geyer, with his "anomlous frightful" in Mark. I did so, and it found its way into a subsequent article I had published on the Passion in Mark.

I could go on and on with more memories, but I will share just a couple more. He used to say that of all the evangelists, Luke was the one who was most likely to invite you to dinner; and of all the evangelists, his would be the invitation you would most want to accept. In fact, the comment turns up in one of his reviews, though I forget which one. Another comment I loved related to the importance of reading entire texts in large dollops, rather than chopping them up and reading them piecemeal. "The problem is that since we have joined the Common Market, we have all started drinking wine, and we have got used to sipping. But we used to drink beer. Pints of beer. Large amounts. That's how we should read the texts, in large quantities."

Writing these reflections on Canon Fenton makes me realize just how major an influence he has been on my academic development. There must be many others like me -- I was just one undergraduate student who climbed those stairs at Christ Church on several occasions to talk about the New Testament with a man who was fascinated by what he was teaching. It was like a fireside chat, but of the most intellectually stimulating kind. I think more than anything, though, I am grateful to Canon Fenton for his encouragement. He always thanked students for their essays, and expressed enthusiasm for what they wrote. Many teachers could learn a lot from that. I am going to miss him.
* Jeff Peterson reminds me that Fenton attributed this insight to Austin Farrer, though it cannot be found in any of Farrer's writings, and must be down to oral tradition. It appears also in Fenton's Finding the Way through Mark (London & New York: Continuum, 1995), 111, where he notes that "There is also the possibility that 'this man' should be translated 'this fellow', disparagingly, as in Acts 6.13".

Interpretation latest: Updated: Link to full text removed

On Friday, I published the following post under the header, "Interpretation latest: Revelation as a Critique of Empire":

The latest issue of Interpretation is out and it appears to be available online in toto:

Interpretation 63/1 (January 2009): Revelation as a Critique of Empire (PDF)

It includes articles by Craig Koester, David Barr and Warren Carter.

Today, the managing editor of Interpretation has written to me to inform me that it was in fact an error to make the full text of the latest volume available to all. She has asked me to remove my link to their material above "as it constitutes a copyright infringement".

The Official Archives of N. T. Wrong

As lots of others have noted, N. T. Wrong has ended the fun and his blog now houses "The Official Archives of Bishop N. T. Wrong". There are no last minute reveals, unless you think that he is really William Dever or Morton Smith. We will miss him, but perhaps he threw in the towel at the right moment; the recent series on "100 Reasons πίστις Χριστοῦ is an Objective Genitive" looked suspiciously like the kind of every day nitty-gritty stuff that dominates the biblioblogosphere. We didn't want to see the bishop morphing into one of us.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Return of Early Christian Writings

As several others have noticed, the web has seen the long awaited and welcome return of Peter Kirby's Early Christian Writings this week.

Chilton on the Jesus Seminar vs. the Jesus Project

Bruce Chilton offers reflection on the Jesus Seminar and the Jesus Project in an article over on Bible and Interpretation:

Plus ça change… “The Jesus Seminar” and “The Jesus Project”
Jesus’ cultural setting had clearly been misjudged in much of Seminar’s deliberations during the ’eighties, and today its findings are widely recognized as being idiosyncratic.
By Bruce Chilton

Chilton speaks from a position of authority as one of the few people to be involved with both.

Thanks to Mark Elliott for drawing it to my attention.

E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism on Duke TV

Duke Today reports on the two books recently published that honor Ed Sanders's work, Common Judaism and Redefining First Century Jewish and Christian Identities:

Duke Religion Professor E. P. Sanders Honored with New Books

The piece features a nice eight minute video interview:

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Other Memories of John Fenton

Over on Notes from Underground, Steve Hays has some fascinating reflections on his encounters with John Fenton:

Of Babies and Bathwater: English Theological and Ecclesiastical Reformers

His reflections are more churchy than mine will be, and he has some theological distance from John Fenton, and it is some twenty years before I knew him, but all these things make reading this blog post all the more interesting, especially as some of the same, recognizable features come through, and I can imagine John Fenton saying the things he says here. He also has a nice picture, perhaps dating from around this period.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Lives Remembered: John Fenton

It was Canon John Fenton's funeral today at Christ Church, Oxford. His obituary appears today in the Church Times (subscribers only). And The Times' "Lives Remembered" tomorrow has several delightful memories of John Fenton (though the article writer does not know how to spell Canon):

Lives Remembered: Ewen Balfour and Canon John Fenton

Here's a quick excerpt:
Canon Michael Perry writes: One of the delights in inviting John Fenton (obituary, Jan 7) to speak or preach was in wondering in what novel way he would attack his subject. We were rarely disappointed. Asked to speak at a forum organised by the Movement for the Ordination of Women, he spoke not a word on his allotted theme, but regaled us by rehearsing all the reasons why Eskimos could never be admitted as members of St Chad’s College.
My memories of John Fenton to follow.

Abbott-Smith Greek Lexicon for free download

Google Books now have available the Abbott-Smith Greek Lexicon for full text PDF download, or, of course, for full view and search online:

A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament
By George Abbott-Smith
Published by Scribner, 1922
Original from Harvard University
Digitized Feb 4, 2008
512 pages

Thursday, January 08, 2009

John Fenton -- Telegraph Obituary

Today, the Telegraph has its obituary of John Fenton. It includes a fine portrait from St Chad's, Durham, though he looks somewhat more stern there than he did in reality:

Canon John Fenton
Provocative and controversial Biblical scholar who influenced several generations of postwar clergy.

It is an entertaining read, and its difference from The Times obituary is a measure of Fenton's legacy. I particularly enjoyed this tidbit:
Fenton was a fan of Oxford United, though police were deeply suspicious of his cassock and dog collar. When he arrived at Middlesbrough one Boxing Day a steward immediately called out "Bloke in the dog-collar: get 'im" and had him searched while his scruffily dressed son and a friend were waved through. Afterwards Fenton doffed his hat and proceeded to the terraces.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Bible in Technology Series at Gorgias Press

Keith Reeves has let me know about the new "Bible in Technology" series that he is editing at Gorgias Press. Here is the description:
The Bible in Technology (BIT) is a series that explores the intersection between biblical studies and computer technology. It also includes studies that address the application of computer technology to cognate fields of ancient history. The series provides a forum for presenting and discussing advancements in this area, such as new software or techniques for analyzing biblical materials, online projects, and teaching resources. The series also seeks to reflect on the contribution and impact of computer technology on biblical research and teaching methods.
There are also some details of a forthcoming volume by Bob Cargill:
Tentative Title: Qumran through (Real) Time: A Virtual Reconstruction of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls

About the Book:The nature of the settlement of Khirbet Qumran has been at the center of archaeological debate since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in nearby caves. Recent research and publications have renewed questions regarding Roland de Vaux’s initial conclusions about Qumran: that the site was built and occupied by the Essenes, who composed the Dead Sea Scrolls there. This book examines the history of interpretation of the settlement at Qumran and introduces a new digital methodology for examining archaeological sites using virtual reconstruction. The process catalogues archaeological data as geometry and allows for the juxtaposition of competing architectural interpretations using “dataswitches” in addition to showing diachronic developments using “dateswitches.” A fully interactive, three-dimensional, real-time, virtual reconstruction of Qumran serves as the test case for the use of this technology.

It is concluded that after an initial Iron Age occupation, the site of Qumran was established as a fortress during the Hasmonean period. This fortress was then abandoned and reoccupied by a small religious community that expanded the site in a communal, non-military manner. The research concludes that the archaeological data do not eliminate the possibility that a sectarian group, with a keen concern for ritual purity, and participating in agricultural, industrial, and scribal endeavors took up residence in the former fortress. The book concludes that this group was ultimately responsible for much of the library of documents found in the nearby caves, commonly known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

About the Author: Dr. Robert Cargill (B.S., CSU Fresno; M.S., M.Div., Pepperdine; M.A., Ph.D., UCLA) is an archaeologist and biblical scholar specializing in Northwest Semitic languages and Near Eastern archaeology of the Second Temple period, and is a leading proponent of the use of digital modeling and virtual reality to reconstruct archaeological remains. Dr. Cargill serves as the Chief Architect and Designer of the Qumran Visualization Project, a 3D, real-time, virtual reconstruction of the site of Qumran. He has participated in numerous archaeological field excavations, including Banias (ancient Caesarea Philippi), Omrit, and Hazor, and has produced digital reconstructions of sites including Qumran, Ugarit, and Jaffa.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

John Fenton: The Times Obituary

The Times obituary of John Fenton has just been published, and it includes a picture of a young looking John Fenton, minus the distinctive long white hair:

The Rev Canon John Fenton: Canon of Christ Church, Oxford

It is all, of course, worth reading, but here is a particularly fine excerpt:
In 1965 he was appointed Principal of St Chad’s College, Durham. The college stopped training ordinands and became a college of the university with a particular emphasis on theology and Christian formation. Fenton was ideal for effecting these changes because he combined a real understanding of secularism with a prayerful life. It was at Durham, too, that he enhanced his reputation as a preacher, whose sermons were radical, simple, witty and marked by a freshness of approach to the scriptural texts. His stimulating preaching was attractive to conservative and radical minds, and led to a series of exegetical articles, which he wrote for several years in The Church Times. It was also at Durham that he developed an eccentricity of appearance — large frame, flowing locks, untidy cassock and billowing cloak. A bad back caused him to walk with a stoop.

Fenton inspired a great deal of affection from students and colleagues. He was interested in individuals, an excellent listener, tolerant, lovable and benign. Yet the affection was tinged with awe, for there was a darker, more troubled, even subversive, side to his character. He would make surprise remarks, which were mischievous to the point of perversity. A cathedral congregation was disturbed to hear that God hated them, and readers of Theology were amazed to read an interpretation of the narratives of the Lord’s Supper which appeared cannibalistic.
I remember hearing that too, and a range of other gems.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Academic New Year Resolutions

It is the time of year for resolutions, and I am going to hold myself to account by publishing my academic ones here. All horribly self-indulgent, of course, but then resolutions are a bit like that.

1. Write more: 2008 was the best year for writing for me since the move to Duke. They say that it takes a couple of years to get stuck into a new job, a new home, a new culture, a new country, and the distractions of applying for the Green card, and other related things, were over. Even so, I think I should have written more.

2. Publish more: although I wrote quite a lot, I did not publish a lot in 2008, and I need to be more strategic about the ratio of writing to publication. It's high time my next book was out, and it is full steam ahead to get it finished.

3. Focus on the book: I am easily distracted with a range of research interests, and I tend to nibble at a topic here and a topic there, making gradual progress on each of them instead of radical progress on just one of them. I need to stop trying to juggle so many research projects and writing commitments and focus on the book.

4. Be less nice : I need to be much less nice. I notice that other academics focus on their own careers, they ignore emails, or they default to "no" every time. They look after number 1. In recent years, I have spent far, far too much time trying to be kind, collegiate and helpful.

5. Don't over-research everything: it is easy to keep on reading and reading and reading and to end up over-thinking a problem that you have, in fact, already solved. One of my Oxford supervisors, John Ashton, used to say "Solvitur scribendo".

6. Invest time in your teaching: It really came home to me last year just how much I enjoy undergraduate teaching. I am lucky here at Duke -- I have clever, motivated and confident students who make the job enjoyable. And I have superb Teaching Assistants too. But until recently, I had not experimented with classes of 100+ and I have enjoyed the challenge.

7. Keep the teaching fresh: I have now taught the same suite of courses (New Testament, Jesus, Paul) on several occasions here so it would be easy to let the teaching become stagnant. I am committing myself, therefore, to making sure that I have a fresh angle, or some fresh questions, or some fresh perspectives, every time I go to class.

8. Invest time in disseminating scholarship outside of the classroom: I have always attempted to think about how scholarship can reach a broader public, but the dwindling amount of my own spare time (reference 4. above) has severely limited the amount of time that I have had to work on internet resources. 2009 is the year when fresh life will be breathed into the New Testament Gateway, with a little help from my friends.

It will be interesting to see how good I will be at keeping these. I expect that I find 6, 7 and 8 quite easy, 1-3 more challenging, but will struggle most with number 4.

Leslie Houlden on John Fenton

Leslie Houlden offers reflections on the life of John Fenton on the Christ Church website:

Canon John Fenton
John Fenton was the kind of priest the English like: friendly to everyone but not in the least pushy, intelligent but more interested in your view than his own and apparently diffident in his often surprising assertions. These features are of course clues to his wide-ranging influence, on individuals rather than official bodies . . .

. . . . And there was a long succession of books and articles on the writings of the New Testament, especially the Gospels. His Penguin Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew has been a standby for many over a long period, together with his work on the Gospel of John . . .

John Fenton

I was sorry to hear this morning of the death of Canon John Fenton on 27 December. I am grateful to Ian Boxall for sharing the sad news with me. There is a brief note in the Oxford Mail but no obituaries have so far been published. I hope to share my reflections on his life later today.

Happy New Year

I realize that it is already a few days into the new year, of course, but I have only recently returned from England, where it turned out that I had only limited time to blog. Term starts pretty much straight away for us here at Duke, but I am looking forward to renewed posting to the blog over the coming days, including some thoughts about the Historical Jesus ahead of a course I am teaching by that name this semester.

There has been plenty of interesting material around the blogs in recent weeks, even if it is disappointing to see so few offering their 2008 Ralphies. It's mainly the old guard (Jim Davila's on Paleojudaica here, with excellent comments on the year's TV, similar to my own thoughts). Perhaps the fact that many bibliobloggers regularly post on matters that are off-topic takes away some of the appeal of the Ralphies of old.

I am grateful to Jim also in mentioning the absence of the NT Gateway blog from the idiosyncratic listing of the Top 50 Ancient History Blogs [Link removed, 5/3/2013] (Paleojudaica), though I was pleased to see several of the top biblioblogs there. And speaking of those, it is nice to see the NT Gateway blog holding its place at number 2 in NT Wrong's Biblioblog Top 50. Not quite sure how it finds its way up there, but it's nice that it does, and thanks.

The New Testament Gateway and this blog will be changing in 2009, I hope for the better, and news will be forthcoming. In the meantime, thank you for your continued support in 2008, and best wishes for a very happy 2009.

By the way, you can now follow me on Twitter, at, should you be so inclined.