Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Richard Valantasis

This from Religion Press Release Services:


June 29, 2005 -- (DENVER) -- The Iliff School of Theology has appointed Sheila Greeve Davaney as Harvey H. Potthoff Professor of Christian Theology and Richard Valantasis as Clifford E. Baldridge Professor of Biblical Studies.

"Both of these distinguished professors are strongly supported by faculty colleagues and by leading academic figures in other parts of the country,” said J. Philip Wogaman, interim president. “Both have served Iliff long and well in their scholarship and in preparing generations of graduate students for service in the church and academic world. We are proud that they have accepted these endowed positions." . . . .

. . . . The Clifford E. Baldridge Chair of Biblical Studies honors the late Clifford E. Baldridge, a long-time trustee and generous supporter of the school.

Valantasis remarked on accepting the appointment, “I am delighted to be appointed to the Clifford E. Baldridge Chair of Biblical Studies. For me it is the apex of my academic and teaching career. I feel deeply honored to have been selected by my Iliff and other professional colleagues. I have always been enlivened by the combination of academic research, classroom teaching, and the day-to-day life of the Church, especially the Church’s love for the Scriptures. The appointment provides me the platform for continuing in those things that give me life.”

Valantasis, an ordained Episcopal priest, was dean of Hartford Seminary prior to joining the Iliff faculty as a professor of New Testament and Christian origins. He was elected to the Studiorum Novi Testamentum Societas in 2000, while also serving as a member of the Society of Biblical Literature, the American Academy of Religion, and other academic and professional associations.


The Iliff School of Theology is a graduate theological school of the United Methodist Church, serving more than 38 different faith traditions. Founded in 1892, the seminary provides several degree programs, including a joint Ph.D. program with the University of Denver.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Philip Esler's New Paradigm

From Fortress:

Prominent Scholar Proposes New Paradigm for Biblical Theology

MINNEAPOLIS (June 17, 2005)— In New Testament Theology: Communion and Community, Philip Esler proposes an entirely new way to integrate historical criticism of the New Testament and its influence on contemporary Christian life and identity. He defends and advocates historical analysis of the texts that is directed towards understanding their original messages as communications from our ancestors in faith.

Although these messages are contextualized in ancient cultural settings, we can nevertheless comprehend them and dialogically engage with their authors in a framework of intercultural communication and communion. New Testament Theology proposes a variety of ways to understand this communicative process, including memory and long-standing ideas concerning ‘the communion of the saints.’ The book re-engineers New Testament theology by insisting upon the theological gains that come from listening to the New Testament authors in the full force of their historical specificity and otherness.

“Esler's fresh approach to the relationship between New Testament scholarship and the concerns of Christian discipleship inaugurates a new departure in biblical theology. His novel and challenging engagement with questions of method, social history, hermeneutics, theology, identity and conflict, and Christian community urges the reader to think beyond paralysing divisions in historical and theological research. . . . Establishing relationships with our biblical ancestors, e.g. Paul, frees them from their usual status as dead authors of textual monuments to becoming real voices again in the ongoing reflection on God’s creative and redemptive project in this universe. . . . This work offers a critical, constructive and much welcome proposal for the renewal of both theological scholarship and the Christian church.”
Werner G. Jeanrond, Professor of Systematic Theology at Lund University, Sweden.

"The whole project fills me with enthusiasm. Philip Esler is developing a genuinely alternative way of carrying out the aims of New Testament theology."
Robert Morgan, Linacre College, Oxford

"In New Testament Theology Philip Esler tackles questions that most historically-oriented scholars avoid with a passion: how can authors from the past be engaged; what would inter-personal communication with long-dead authors look like; how can the New Testament more fruitfully become a resource for contemporary Christian living?

In engaging such foundational but oft-ignored issues Esler utilizes and evaluates a dazzling array of literary, social-scientific, cross-cultural, communications, and hermeneutical theories. His study of such theories is both impressive and useful, especially since he is able to express complex theories in readily understandable language. His dialogue with reader-response criticism is particularly illuminating, as he argues for a form of inter-personal and dialogical communication with the authors of the New Testament documents that is anchored in a reappraisal and rehabilitation of Schleiermacher's hermeneutics.

Written in a style that is itself inter-personal, Esler knows how to use examples from literature and film as well as from his own life. His studies of 1 Corinthians 10-14 and Hebrews 10-12 illustrate the value of the approach he argues for. His creative and fertile mind stretches and challenges the reader to reevaluate cherished and usually unexamined ways of approaching the Bible. Although he provides a succinct summary of scholarship from the 18th century to the 21st, his primary goal is nothing less than a new way of connecting the results of historical study of the New Testament with Christian belief, practice, and identity.”

Rev. Walter F. Taylor, Jr., Ph.D., Ernest W. and Edith S. Ogram Professor of New Testament Studies, Director of Graduate Studies, Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio

Philip E. Esler is Professor Biblical Criticism at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. Among his publications are Conflict and Identity in Romans (Fortress Press, 2003), The Early Christian World (editor, 2000), Galatians (1998), and The Early Christians and Their Social Worlds.

New Testament Theology: Communion and Community

ISBN 0-8006-3720-8

6” x 9”, 368 pp, paperback


ISBN 0-8006-3719-4

6” x 9”, 368 pp, jacketed hardcover


To order New Testament Theology please visit your local bookstore or call Fortress Press at 1-800-328-4648 or visit the web site at To request review copies or exam copies, or for interviews with the author please call 1-800-426-0115 ext. 234 or email

New blogs on the block

Since I've been away from blogging, there are several new biblioblogs and ancient world blogs on the block. These have all been mentioned variously in other blogs, with my apologies for repetition here in this round up:

A Post-Postmodern Blog on New Testament Studies, Christian Origins, and Following Jesus
Michael Bird

Thoughts on Antiquity
This weblog focuses on Ancient Cultures of the world, from the Ancient Mesopotamian world to Egyptian pyramids, from Greek mysteries to Roman commissatio, from China to the Aztec, all things in antiquity
Chris Weimer

Novum Testamentum
A site dedicated to the New Testament and cognate fields
Brandon Wason

The last one is not to be confused with Novum Testamentum. It looks like there's lots of interest in all of the above. I've added them all to my blogroll.

Matthew and the Didache

This press release from Fortress:

Fortress Press Releases Matthew and the Didache

MINNEAPOLIS (June 28, 2005)— In Matthew and the Didache, scholars from the United States, Canada, France, the Netherlands, and South Africa analyze the complex relationship between the Gospel of Matthew and the Didache. They discuss the implications not only for scholars' understanding of these two ancient documents but for the development of Christianity, Jewish-Christian relations, and the history of liturgy.

The contributors are:

* Bas ter Haar Romeny
* Clayton N. Jefford
* Wim Weren
* Aaron Milavec
* Kari Syreeni
* John S. Kloppenborg
* Peter J. Tomson
* Gerard Rouwhorst
* André Tuilier
* Huub van de Sandt
* Joseph Verheyden
* Jonathan A. Draper

“This stimulating collection of essays from an international group of scholars provides extensive and insightful exploration of the possible relationships between the Gospel of Matthew and the Didache, and of the location of both texts in Jewish/Christian contexts.”

—Warren Carter, Professor of New Testament, Saint Paul School of Theology, Kansas City


Huub van de Sandt is Lecture in New Testament Studies in the Faculty of Theology, Tilburg, the Netherlands. He is co-author of The Didache (Fortress Press, 2002.)

Format: Paper over board 304 pages 6 x 9 inches

ISBN: 0800637224

Publisher: Fortress Press
Price: $49.00

Rights: CUSA, English

To order Matthew and the Didache please call Fortress Press at 1-800-328-4648 or visit the Web site at To request review copies or exam copies call 1-800-426-0115 ext. 234 or email

Paul Ricoeur Obituary

A lot of my blogging for the next day or two is going to be in the "in case you missed it" category given that I'm behind; I have not caught up with all the blogs either, so may well be repeating things on a regular basis. But here's one such item, from SBL Forum:

Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005)
André LaCocque

More on Mark's Other Gospel

Over on Xtalk, Loren Rosson has a useful review of Scott Brown's new book on the Secret Gospel of Mark:

Mark's Other Gospel (Review)

Review of Biblical Literature latest

And with that in mind (see previous post), here are the latest from the SBL's Review of Biblical Literature relating to the NT:

Hultgren, Stephen
Narrative Elements in the Double Tradition: A Study of Their Place within the Framework of the Gospel Narrative
Reviewed by Matthew C. Baldwin

Penner, Todd
In Praise of Christian Origins: Stephen and the Hellenists in Lukan Apologetic Historiography
Reviewed by William Malas

Penner, Todd
In Praise of Christian Origins: Stephen and the Hellenists in Lukan Apologetic Historiography
Reviewed by Torrey Seland

Marshall, I. Howard
Beyond the Bible: Moving from Scripture to Theology
Reviewed by John William Vest

Sugirtharajah, Rasiah S.
The Bible and the Third World: Precolonial, Colonial and Postcolonial Encounters
Reviewed by Bonnie Roos

Milavec, Aaron
The Didache: Faith, Hope, and Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C. E.
Reviewed by Mark Bredin

Milavec, Aaron
The Didache: Faith, Hope, and Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C. E.
Reviewed by Tobias Nicklas

Review of Biblical Literature latest

In the Macintosh Biblioblog Joe Weaks comments "If you frequent Mark Goodacre's blog, you've observed his personal obsession with posting the review notices in web form". "Personal obsession" might be a little strong, but I do like to post the RBL links relevant to the NT here and for a couple of reasons: (1) RBL themselves still only have an email updates service and not a web updated service, so -- unless I am wrong -- you cannot go to the Review of Biblical Literature website and see what has been posted recently. In that respect it is unlike a standard print journal. You can't browse, unless of course you go to the Search the Post link and write in to "Date Review Published". (2) Quite some time ago, I suggested dropping the regular updates here, as others like Jim Davila did at the same time, but when I suggested this, several got in touch to ask me to continue to do it. (3) I like to build up the available data for searching on the NT Gateway, and to be comprehensive on the NT titles in RBL ensures that I am not leaving out potential gems that may be of interest to others.

Missing blogging

I don't think I've ever gone so long without serious blogging and I'm missing it. I'm still too busy to get to the blog; keeping up with emails is tough enough at the moment. But I am hoping to do some major catch-up blogging soon.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Light Blogging and Preparations to Move

No doubt you will have noticed that this blog has stalled somewhat over the last week or so. I fear that that will be a pattern to come over the next few weeks, though I will at least keep a basic update on my move, and will blog on NT items of interest if time does allow. I visited Aberdeen to examine last Thursday and term finished here last Friday, so my time is freed up a little for some all important practicalities, and relatively little for university work.

I am asked a lot at the moment about when I will be leaving Birmingham and moving to Duke. At present this is how things stand: my contract over there begins on September 1 and if at all possible I intend to be there to begin on that date. However, that will depend entirely on whether or not our visas have come through in time. The paperwork went in a couple of weeks ago and, my goodness, what hard work it was to get that all prepared. I have been told that it will take at least two months to process, so now it's a waiting game on that front. In the mean time we are hoping to sell up here as soon as possible, and most of my time at present is spent on that process. At the same time we are doing a lot of "virtual" planning for moving to North Carolina and already have a few ideas. But if anyone out there happens to have any good tips concerning housing, areas and schools, I'd be delighted for any suggestions.

More when I have time.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Congratulations to Catherine Smith

My student Catherine Smith (old pic here on Paleojudaica) today had her PhD viva, examiners Prof. David Parker and Dr Andrew Wilson, and I am delighted to report that she has passed subject to minor corrections. The topic was Corpus Linguistics and the Synoptic Problem. There was a nice post-viva celebration in the new ITSEE project room, with cake. Well done, Cat! A bright academic future awaits!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Bible Dudes latest

Bible Dudes blog notes that its new section on Source Criticism is now live:

Source Criticism

The cartoon "P" and "Q" at the top of the page sets the tone for the whole. And, as usual, the page provides a useful way into the complexities of academic Biblical Studies for the complete newcomer (on more of which, see below). A couple of points of observation and criticism on this page. First, the diagram illustrating the Four-Source Theory has a couple of errors -- the top row should show M / Mk / Q / L and not Mt / Mk / Q / Lk. Second, my no doubt predictable complaint that this kind of approach, which does not even mention Q sceptical views, re-entrenches the Q hypothesis by providing only this solution to the Synoptic Problem and not even mentioning any alternatives. Given that this is intended for the beginning student, this falls into the category of material I discussed in the first chapter of The Case Against Q, "First Impressions". I'd suggest that it is an ideal time to get students interested in discussing and weighing different theories, by introducing them at the beginning, and not pre-judging the issue by coming down in favour of one particular solution. (Perhaps a nice cartoon of Farrer or Goulder with a speech bubble and a sword to slay Q?!)

On the broader question of the value of Bible Dudes, there has been a short thread recently on Xtalk [Note: URL corrected, 28/6/05], beginning with a question by Jeffrey Gibson and a negative reaction by Jim West
. . . .When the Bible is made a cartoon- it becomes cartoonish. Even the best scholarship, if bastardized, becomes, so far as the public is concerned, just another bit of trite drivel.
I suppose for me it is a question of context. The authors' concern is to reach an audience who would not otherwise be looking at academic Biblical Studies, and to use popular and friendly language and images to do it. My guess is that this material is not aimed even at undergraduate students, but is at a much lower level than that. I'd only recommend the site to my undergraduates if they were looking for a place to spend their first five minutes on the topic, and to have a smile. Its ideal audience would be, I'd say, 14-16 year olds, GCSE students in the UK. Or perhaps just about 16-18 ('A' Level students in the UK), though they might feel a bit patronised by it. In relation to this, I'd repeat my earlier concerns that ultimately this is going to get pretty dated. "Dudes" and the like is already a little passé, I'd guess, and it is language that has never taken off over here (except where people are self-consciously imitating Americans), so it will need servicing in due course to adjust to something more contemporary.

Coptic Gospel of Judas latest

Just in case you missed it, Jim West on Biblical Theology, Jim Davila on Paleojudaica, and no doubt others too, refer to an i-Newswire piece on the Gospel of Judas. Thanks to Stephen Goranson on Xtalk for the link.

Pain of Powerpoint

On Ricoblog, Rick Brannan has an enjoyable post about Presentations and Powerpoint, linking to this great post / article on Creating Passionate Users:

Stop your presentation before it kills again!

It's everything you've always thought about Powerpoint but have never found time to articulate. One proviso for my support for this and one additional point. First the proviso: I don't think that one should use this kind of effective counter-argument to Powerpoint unless you've first worked with Powerpoint. In other words, I don't like the thought of people who can't be bothered to experiment with technology using some of its drawbacks as an excuse not to experiment with technology. I hope that that makes sense. What I mean is that the strength of the article above is that it is based on intimate acquaintance with Powerpoint and so it is able to appreciate its strengths and where it can work before it is able to launch such a useful attack on its over-use.

Second, the addition. I have had several experiences in different contexts of the technology simply not working: the data projector will not make contact with the laptop, the technicians do not turn up, the data does not appear as one would like it to. In fact, I am really unlucky around Powerpoint -- I've had several negative experiences, both when chairing and presenting sessions. And one sure way of killing your presentation is to make it so dependent on Powerpoint that if there is a technological hitch, your presentation dies a horrible and embarrassing death.

Update (5 July, 23.29): Pete Phillips has some useful comments in postmodernbible, including:
i just wonder whether anti-powerpointism goes the other way of this snobbish reaction - to appear to be one better than everyone else. "Bullet-points? O dear, they are so last season! Didn't you know we're into the visual now!" Well I can see the point and the missing link session made me think even more. But at times, it is really helpful to have the information up there on the screen - not least because sometimes speakers are so random that it is the only bit that does make sense!
And so on. I wish I could find a good excuse to comment on Dr Who, like Pete (see here and here), which was sensational, but I can't.

Ehrman on Thomas

0n Hypotyposeis, Stephen Carlson comments on Bart Ehrman on the Da Vinci Code:
I think that the Gospel of Thomas was written about 20 years after John; my opinion on this is the majority opinion; almost everybody who studies Thomas thinks of it as later than John with a few notable exceptions, including Elaine Pagels. She's the main one, but most people think Thomas was written in the early second century.
Ehrman's take on the majority opinion is somewhat different from the impression I have garnered from reading the scholarship of the most vocal (generally North American) investigators of Thomas, but, if Ehrman is right (and he has a better sense of the field than I do), it is a helpful reminder that the majority of scholars are not necessarily the loudest voices.
I think that Ehrman is right about where the majority opinion lies, and Stephen's comment that this is a useful reminder is apposite. I was interested by the same paragraph in the Ehrman interview, not least because I find myself in the minority group on this one (nothing new for me there!). The notion that John may post-date Thomas or something very like Thomas seems to me more likely than the reverse given John's too-perfect characterisation of Thomas as coming to belief in the way of the cross and ultimately the resurrection of Jesus' flesh, with the latter the very occasion for the confession of belief in Jesus as Lord and God. This is a powerful and effective counter to the kind of Jesus movement (if you can even call it that) witnessed by the Gospel of Thomas. The full case takes longer to make, and it is in my forthcoming book on Thomas, if I ever get it finished.

Monday, June 13, 2005

The Open End

For some years there has been a group of theologians and philosophers of religion (and similar such people) who have held a monthly Monday night discussion group called "The Open End". It's a group I have occasionally joined in on myself, though the childcare commitments have made it too difficult for me to attend with any regularity. Its most famous member is John Hick [note: website down at the moment] and I count it as one of the privileges of working in the department here that I have got to know him. He has been a friend for years of Michael Goulder, who is also one of the Open End's regular attenders. Imagine giving a paper in front of such august people with such fine minds! Well, tonight I have been invited to address the group.

John Hick asked me to avoid anything too nit-picky; he said he did not want something that would be simply of interest to New Testament scholars. So I have decided to present a paper entitled "When Prophecy Became Passion: The Death of Jesus and the Birth of the Gospels", which is the working title for a book I am writing which focuses on the Passion Narrative. I gave a lecture under this title originally back in 2003 at Wellesley College, Boston, as the Elizabeth Luce More Lecture for that year. I then gave a greatly revised and different lecture under the same title as my presentation at Duke University in March as part of my application for the post there. On both of those occasions, I have learnt a lot that is going to help me rework and think about the project as I head towards publication, one day, of the book. I am sure that the same will be true of tonight's session.

Update (Tuesday, 10.07): it was an enjoyable evening, especially the wine, cheese and cold meats at the end. I spoke for forty-two minutes and there was then over an hour of discussion, all very wide ranging. It was a good test for me because it forced me to think, mainly on the hoof, about issues I do not usually think about, in particular the implications of New Testament scholarship for theology, religion and Christianity more broadly. It is too easy to go for defensive strategies like "I'm a historian, really", though such strategies are very tempting because I'm much more comfortable talking about history. John Hick asked several questions about the "person in the pew", by which he seems to mean, in this context, those who are ignorant of New Testament scholarship, concerning which I shared my views on the importance of finding ways of communicating Biblical scholarship better to that "person in the pew". I suggested that one of the elements that is involved is to be less disparaging than are some scholars about the challenge of working through the internet and the media. John Hick also asked me lots of interesting questions about incarnation and myth, but I don't think I had anything especially interesting to say on those, and the fact that I remember the questions more clearly than the answers I gave suggests that I should reflect some more on the implications of what I do for the broader theological questions that tend to interest me so much less than the historical ones that I find my more natural hunting ground.

David McLoughlin said that he thought my picture of Christian origins and the emergence of the Gospels was rather too friendly an affair and suggested that it was all more aggressive. I said that I suspected that my talk had unduly implied that it was too amicable and that in fact there must have been more fights.

Michael Goulder asked me how I dealt with the lack of patristic evidence for the kind of liturgical use of the Passion Narrative that I had postulated, partly following him. I replied that I am more convinced that the features to which I drew attention in the text admitted more of a liturgical origin for the Passion than a continuing liturgical use. The one piece of evidence we have for a kind of 24 hour vigil, in Egeria, is, I suggested, more to do with a rediscovery of the time notes in the Passion Narrative connected with the growth of Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land than it is any actual reminiscence of earlier practice.

Friday, June 10, 2005

The Suffering Servant Book Review

This week's Church Times has an enthusiastic review of the following:

The Suffering Servant: Isaiah 53 in Jewish and Christian Sources
By Bernd Janowski and Peter Stuhlmacher, editors

The review is by John Barton.

Bart Ehrman on Da Vinci Code

Beliefnet has an enjoyable interview with Bart Ehrman on his recent book setting The Da Vinci Code straight:

Unpacking 'The Code'
What's true in Dan Brown's 'Da Vinci Code' and what's pure historical fiction?
Interview by Deborah Caldwell
. . . . How is your book different from previous "Da Vinci Code" spinoffs?

I haven't made a precise study of this, but I think almost all of the other books are written by evangelical Christians who are concerned that "The Da Vinci Code" might lead their people astray. And that isn't my agenda at all. My agenda really is more historical—making sure people understand the historical realities of the life of Jesus, his relationship to Mary Magdalene, how we got our New Testament Gospels, why other gospels were excluded, what the role of Constantine was in the formation of Christianity. These are for me purely historical interests. And people are obviously interested; some are interested in them for religious reasons and some just because they're interested in our culture's past . . . .

Thursday, June 09, 2005

David Shepherd's Passion Writers' Interview

On Deinde Danny Zacharias points to the following article on the latest SBL Forum:

From Gospel to Gibson: An Interview with the Writers

Danny adds that he awaits my comments. I don't have anything fresh to add on this except that it is good that the MP3 of this session has been made available. I was at the session from which the recording was made and made comments here:

SBL Passion of the Christ interview -- Fulco and Fitzgerald

But an addendum. I recently ran across another account of the event that contrasts a bit with mine, and which is sharply critical of mine. It's by Shawn Landres on Religion and Society

"Scholarly" Conversation on the Passion
By contrast, here's what Mark calls "tough" interviewing: "David Shepherd did put the difficult questions, though, and in particular pressed Fulco on the issue of Greek." Mark "wondered whether Alice Bach was a little starstruck; she did not ask any difficult questions ...and she was a little touchy-feely with Fitzgerald as if very pleased to be sitting up there with him." Considering that Alice Bach was the only woman on the panel and the only one of the three interviewers to raise the issues of antisemitism and violence--no doubt she was pushing the boundaries of some list of pre-determined interview topics--this is a deeply unfair, not to mention incredibly disrespectful, description.
The opening of this quoted passage is misleading: I do not talk about "'tough' interviewing" so the quotation marks around the word 'tough' are incorrect. The point of what I was saying in context was my surprise that Alice Bach and Clayton Jefford did not really push Fulco and Fitzgerald on what I would regard as the difficult questions. It's something that really surprised me, since Shepherd, as the chair (as it were) I would have expected less to bring up those issues than the specially invited academics. I am sorry that Shawn feels that my description was "deeply unfair, not to mention incredibly disrespectful". It was not intended that way; I was attempting to describe, admittedly somewhat journalistically, what I observed at the session, with no disrespect to any of the participants intended. I suppose what made such an impact on me was the relaxed, too-friendly nature of this session after the vituperative session that immediately preceded it in the Bible in Ancient and Modern Media, with Paula Fredriksen, Adele Reinhartz, William Campbell and others all weighing in. To have witnessed those two sessions back to back, neither of which allowed audience participation, left me reflecting on the remarkable difference between the two. I was the more frustrated with the first, much less well attended session because it was one of the standard SBL sections at which audience participation should have been obligatory, rather than a "special event" like the second of the two. But I do agree with Shawn that this, too, should have allowed audience participation.

Update (6 July, 17.08): Peter Chattaway has some useful comments in FilmChat, Passion writers speak.

Fredriksen on the Passion again

Helenann Hartley and Michael Pahl (and I think Jim West too but I can't find the link) comment on this article about a lecture given by Paula Fredriksen touching on The Passion of the Christ:

New Testament scholar compares the ‘Jesus of Hollywood’ to the historical one
By Kendall Madden

There's nothing new in the piece, especially if you have read others of Fredriksen's pieces on The Passion, e.g. The Gospel According to Gibson: Mad Mel, New Republic Online, July 25, 2003, and History, Hollywood, and the Bible: Some Thoughts on Gibson’s Passion, SBL Forum, and Pain Principle, in New Republic Online, February 27, 2004. There's one element I'd like to comment on again, though:
"Gibson may genuinely believe that what he has presented in his film is the same as history, but the claim itself is demonstrably false," she said. "Gibson, in his script, picked and chose from among all four Gospels—an element here, an instance there—creating from his montage a fifth 'gospel' that has never existed."
There are two questionable elements (to me) in this line of criticism. The first is the idea that Gibson has claimed historical accuracy for the film. As I have commented before (e.g. in my article in the Corley and Webb (ed.) book), it is possible that this is the case, but if so, I've not been able to find a single documented example. (See further my post Historical Accuracy of the Passion of the Christ). The second is the surprising way in which Fredriksen, along with other NT scholars have criticized the film's harmonizing approach, something that is entirely to be expected in the Jesus film tradition. Again, for more detail, see my article previously mentioned, or an old blog post, The harmonizing tradition in Jesus films.

Carlson on Secret Mark latest

On Ricoblog, Rick Brannan has the latest on Stephen Carlson, The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark including a link to the Baylor website (previous link) with a cover pic (as above) and a synopsis. Table of contents and excerpt are promised, but not yet available.

Update (21.17): I meant to mention earlier how I thought that the Publishers Weekly comments on Secret Mark quoted by Rick Brannan could well stick. Just look at this for sell-ability:
"a real-life Da Vinci Code detective story set in academia".
(And I'd read Stephen Carlson over Dan Brown any day of the week!).

Ancient skulls

Another interesting post on Ralph relates to Ancient Stench and Corpse Removal and features the following comment:
And lastly, the Mishnah quotes a saying of Hillel (Pirke Aboth 2:7):
One time he saw a skull (or: head) floating on the waters, he said to it: Because you drowned others, they drowned you; in the end, those who drowned you will drown.
I always thought the occasion for this saying was strange; how likely was it that someone would see a human skull in the water? But now I can see that it would not have been that unusual.
I am reminded of a comment Maurice Casey made to me once concerning Golgotha as the "Place of the Skull". He remarked that it is common to see dogs eating bones of all different shapes and sizes but you seldom see them with a skull in their mouths. Skulls don't fit. He suggested, therefore, that "the Place of the Skull" got its name because it was littered with the skulls left behind by the scavenging dogs.

Aramaic Wordplay in Matt. 3.9 @ Ralph

On Ralph the Sacred River, Ed Cook has an interesting discussion of a possible Aramaic wordplay in Matt. 3.9 // Luke 3.8, prompted by a reference in Maurice Casey's Aramaic Sources of Mark's Gospel:
I have some quibbles with the Aramaic, though. For instance: Casey discusses A. Meyer's idea that there is an underlying Aramaic wordplay at Matt. 3:9 || Luke 3:8: "God is able of these stones (Gk. lithon = Aram. abnayya ) to raise up children (Gk. tekna = Aram. benayya) unto Abraham." This suggestion has made its way into many a commentary.

But Casey says:
That is not unreasonable, but it does involve the selection of benayya, which might well have been translated huious, rather than ynqyn, which was bound to be rendered tekna. (p. 13)
Casey's point, and it is well taken, is that you can't just translate the Greek backwards into Aramaic to find wordplays and such; you have to imagine how a translator would most likely have rendered any putative Aramaic original. He thinks that benayya would most likely have been rendered "sons," not "children"; yanqin is the Aramaic word most likely to have been rendered "children."
And Ed goes on to make some further useful points. The passage in question also raises other concerns with retroversion (back translation) projects. One difficulty is that any given word might have a variety of words from which it could be alleged to have derived, and this can provide the invitation to the scholar looking to discover puns, alliteration, hidden meanings and the like. When you add this to the fact that there are many passages in the Gospels that do not lend themselves to this treatment even given the variety of possibilities for retroversion, one cannot help wondering whether the choice passages are themselves simply happy coincidences.

One bit of data I like to add in to this kind of discussion is the importance of paying careful attention to ways in which the Greek of the passage may in fact show evidence of the redactional tendencies of the Gospel in which it appears. In the discussion of Matt. 3.9 above, it is worth noting that Matthew does in fact have a rather odd use of the term tekna elsewhere in a context where he is clearly discussing sons, 21.28-32, the Parable of the Two "Sons" (always called that, and never "Children"). I'm not sure how this helps the Aramaic retroversion discussions, but I am inclined to think that if Matthew is capable of idiosyncracies in his terminology, e.g. using tekna in contexts where we might have expected huioi, we should be very careful of talking about how a word "would have" been translated, or even how a word is "most likely" to have been translated.

One more point: the case for Matthean composition of the passage Matt. 3.7-10 is I think pretty strong; see, e.g., Michael Goulder's Midrash and Lection in Matthew and Luke: A New Paradigm. What Matthew has done is to compose a short speech for John the Baptist in his own style (even using phrases he will repeat in Jesus' mouth later on, like "Brood of vipers!" plus rhetorical question), around the theme suggested by the idea inherited from Mark that John's baptism was one of repentance.

PS: it is worth noting that Maurice Wile's Aramaic Sources of Mark's Gospel is on Google Print, and also An Aramaic Approach to Q.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Latest Biblica

Thanks to Holger Szesnat for the note that Biblica has its latest out:

Biblica 26/1 (2005) Fasc. 1

These are the NT articles:
Bennema, C 2005. The Sword of the Messiah and the Concept of Liberation in the Fourth Gospel. Biblica 86(1), 35-58.

Hatina, T R 2005. Who Will See "the Kingdom of God Coming with Power" in Mark 9,1: Protagonists or Antagonists? Biblica 86(1), 20-34.

Neyrey, J H 2005. "First", "Only", "One of a Few", and "No One Else". The Rhetoric of Uniqueness and the Doxologies in 1 Timothy. Biblica 86(1), 59-87.

Another Passion article

The Jewish Political Studies Review has an article on The Passion of the Christ. I'd like to comment when I have time, but here's the link:

The Passion by Mel Gibson: Enthusiastic Response in the Catholic World, Restrained Criticism by the Jews
Sergio I. Minerbi

Jewish Political Studies Review 17:1-2 (Spring 2005)

The Israel Hasbara Committee site has a useful abstract:
Mel Gibson’s cinematic treatment of Jesus’ death (first screened for the public on Ash Wednesday, 25 February 2004) is not just hateful towards Jews, it is highly incendiary and vindictive. Nevertheless, Jewish reactions have, for the most part, been astonishingly lame, possibly the result of fears that criticism would increase antisemitism. Most of the serious discussions of the film’s historicity have been initiated by Catholics, some of whom have gone so far as to maintain that Gibson’s reading of the Gospels is selective and tendentious. Unfortunately, these reactions have been overshadowed by the positive reception of the film throughout the Catholic world, most importantly by the Vatican. This has undermined not only the achievements of Vatican II, but also the reputation of Pope John Paul II as being sympathetic to the Jews. Many scenes in the film are based not on accounts of Jesus’ suffering in The New Testament, but on private revelations from Catholic visionaries, such as 19th century mystic Anne Catherine Emmerich. Her beatification in October 2004 is a chilling testimony to the Vatican’s acceptance of Gibson’s film as historical fact.
There are a couple of other recent new resources on The Passion I'd like to mention in due course.

Update (Thursday, 21.21): Tyler Williams comments.

Crossan on Paul

The North Carolina based Baptist Recorder has an article on John Dominic Crossan's views on Paul:

Scholars chronicle Paul's lasting impact
By Greg Garrison

If you've read the recent Crossan and Reed book on Paul, it will be familiar stuff, but I smiled at the conclusion of the article:
The new scholarly trend seems to give Paul a lot of credit for maintaining the theological consistency of Jesus' message, while making it appealing to a new audience and giving it the impetus that would take it to the world.

"If you ask me what Jesus would have said to Paul," Crossan said, "I think he would have said, `Thank you.'"
It's an interesting enough quotation to bang a "discuss" on the end of it and use it as an examination question. And it contrasts pretty strongly with the confrontation between Jesus and Paul in The Last Temptation of Christ.

Maurice Wiles

I was sorry to read of the death of Maurice Wiles on Hypotyposeis. Today's Telegraph has an obituary:

The Rev Professor Maurice Wiles

It's a fascinating obituary. I read a lot of Maurice Wiles when I was in Oxford and occasionally heard him lecture; I think I met him on a couple of occasions, but I was rather in awe of him. I found him somewhat austere compared to others of his Christ Church colleagues like Rowan Williams and John Fenton, who seemed to nervous youngsters like me to be more approachable. A fine Patristics scholar and a brilliant theologian.

Evaluating Internet Information

There's been a useful thread on Xtalk recently on Jeffrey Gibson's work on revising the on-line links on Steven Harris's New Testament Introduction. In fact it's something Jeffrey has been exploring on several lists, something I'm all in favour of. (Thread begins here). I think it an excellent idea to do this kind of thing interactively and drawing on expertise of the various e-lists, a great experiment in a kind of communal building of resources, and I am watching with interest.

As a part of the thread, Bob Schacht suggests that Jeffrey adds something on how to evaluate e-resources and David Barr mentions this useful guide from John Hopkins University:

Evaluating Internet Information

I dare say that there are plenty of other such guides, but I thought this one pretty much hits the right note. The only things I'd add would be that students ought also to think very seriously about using gateway resources or megasites in which academics have pointed up specific internet sites for them to use. The article in question tends to assume that the student has the library, with pre-selected information, or the internet, with non-pre-selected information, and that comparison is far too simplistic. It is also a bit out of date in its comments on search engines. No one now uses Yahoo! and the like to search the net, do they?

Update (2 November 2005): this post had attracted some silly and unfounded allegations that were irrelevant to the content, and one of those mentioned has asked me to remove those comments, and I am happy to oblige.


Thanks too to Michael Turton on The Sword for his good wishes; but it sounds like he may be onto us me.

Monday, June 06, 2005

PhD Questions

Over on Deinde, Danny Zacharias asks some interesting questions about the kinds of things for post-graduates to bear in mind in pursuing a PhD and asks for other bloggers' opinions. I am not yet through all my accumulated blogroll, so it's possible that what I write here will duplicate what others have already said, but here are some of my own thoughts on Danny's interesting questions:
First off, are most other PhD's this demanding in terms of languages? Second, How important is German and French? I find in my studies (NT and NT backgrounds primarily) that German is not as prevalent as it used to be. I am seeing less and less footnotes to German works, and many of the significant German works are being translated into English pretty quickly. Is the German requirement fading?
I'd say that it is fading in some places, that it is not regarded a seriously as it once was, but that this should not be encouraged. I questioned a student in a PhD viva once about a German work and s/he answered, quite unapologetically, that s/he could not have read the work in question because it was in German. The difficulty here is that if one wants to prepare for the academic life, competence in German is necessary and therefore it is not worth looking to find ways of side-stepping this. French is much less important, but still some competence is desirable. At Duke it is apparently obligatory to have competence: "Students must pass competency exams in German and French before taking their preliminary exams." (Graduate Program in Religion: New Testament).
Third, are PhD programs increasingly 'silently requiring' Aramaic or Latin as well?
I'd say it depends very much on the topic of your dissertation. I have no Aramaic and very limited Latin. I want to work on both and some time will manage it. But clearly there are some topics where it would be required and others where it would be highly desirable.
Fourth, I'd love to hear some blogger opinions for myself and other readers on PhD programs. If someone were interested in NT, where should they aim for? What about OT? Judaica? Theology? . . . . I am not sure if Duke can be beat. As an NT student, Notre Dame is also luring (My sights are narrowed to North America, I simply cannot afford to cross the pond). What are some other opinions?
I am afraid that the truth of the matter is that Duke is suffering a great loss to its graduate programme with the retirement of E. P. Sanders, in my opinion the finest living NT scholar, just no question about it. But I would agree that it is a fantastic graduate school; it's one of several reasons that I was absolutely delighted to be offered a post there. If I've understood correctly, the Dept of Religion, where I will be based, and the Divinity School work together in the Graduate Program in Religion. I don't know enough about other American universities to be able to comment; I'm a learner there. In the UK, there are several you could mention and I am nervous of listing them lest I miss anyone out!

Update (Tuesday, 23.25): Joe Cathey comments with a focus on Hebrew Bible. Anyone else?

American Professors and English Lecturers

My email inbox is now down from 550 to 80 and though there's still some way to go, I turn to the pleasurable task of beginning to catch up with all my favourite blogs. I'm grateful to Joe Cathey for his congratulions on Dr Cathey's Blog, where he calls me "Professor Goodacre", something that I rather like the sound of, but it's not something you'd be called in the UK unless you had a chair. Often there is only one chair in a given department, though here in Birmingham we have several (including Professors Parker and Sugirtharajah in the Biblical / NT studies area). I've always quite enjoyed receiving letters or emails from Americans addressed to "Professor Goodacre"; I knew someone who used to save these to look at to give him encouragement and hope that one day he would attain to this in the English system. I suppose, if I have understood the American system, our "Professor" is roughly equivalent to the American "full professor", our "Reader" and "Senior Lecturer" are roughly equivalent to the American "associate professor" and our "Lecturer" is roughly equivalent to the American "assistant professor". But the difference seems to be that it is acceptable for anyone at the rank of assistant professor / associate professor to be addressed as "Professor X" in the USA and Canada whereas in the UK, no one would ever address a lecturer, senior lecturer or reader as "Professor X".

I should perhaps add that I would always say "Please call me Mark".

Update (Wednesday, 00.03): Michael Pahl emails:
It's interesting that it does get a little more complicated than you've noted, however, when you add in a more basic rank in the North American system, that of "Instructor" or (more here in Canada, I think) "Lecturer." So a Lecturer here is nothing like a Lecturer in the UK, and as you've noted someone here can be called "Professor" when such a thing would be unthinkable in the UK!

And I've wondered, does the UK have a tenure system?
On the latter question, the answer is broadly yes, but it is not quite as formalised a structure as it seems to be in the USA and Canada. You'll often begin a job with "probationary status" and this will be upgraded to a permanent contract if you perform well, now including also doing a post-graduate higher education certificate. Others might take on a job with a fixed-term contract and then it be upgraded to a permanent contract in due course.

My own experience in Birmingham was of a fixed-term contract appointment in 1995, for three years, to act as "teaching relief" for the then new dean of the faculty of Arts, Frances Young. My contract was then changed to a permanent one at the end of that three year period in 1998. So to use the American language, I was granted "tenure" after a three year fixed term contract. It's more common, though, to go the other route, probation and then permanent contract, something resembling "tenure track" in North America, though that term is never used here.

Review of Biblical Literature latest

Here's a bumper list of the latest under the NT and General heading from the SBL Review of Biblical Literature, i.e. covering this week and last, when I was away:

Allen, Ronald J. and Clark M. Williamson
Preaching the Gospels Without Blaming the Jews: A Lectionary Commentary
Reviewed by Susan Haber

Byrne, Brendan
Lifting the Burden: Reading Matthew's Gospel in the Church Today
Reviewed by Warren Carter

García Martínez, F. and G. P. Luttikhuizen, eds.
Jerusalem, Alexandria, Rome: Studies in Ancient Cultural Interaction in Honour of A. Hilhorst
Reviewed by Eric Noffke

Talbert, Charles H.
Reading Luke-Acts in its Mediterranean Milieu
Reviewed by Robert Tannehill

Van, Ray
Cohesion and Structure in the Pastoral Epistles
Reviewed by Tobias Nicklas

Helmer, Christine and Christof Landmesser, eds.
One Scripture or Many?: Canon from Biblical, Theological and Philosophical Perspectives
Reviewed by Tobias Nicklas

Hughes, Richard A.
Lament, Death, and Destiny
Reviewed by Pierre-Yves Brandt

Hughes, Richard A.
Lament, Death, and Destiny
Reviewed by Linda Schearing

Schaberg, Jane, Esther Fuchs and Alice Bach, eds.
On the Cutting Edge: The Study of Women in Biblical Worlds: Essays in Honor of Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza
Reviewed by Gabriella Gelardini

Ebner, Martin and Bernhard Heininger, eds.
Paradigmen auf dem Prüfstand: Exegese wider den Strich: Festschrift für Karlheinz Müller zu seiner Emeritierung
Reviewed by Tobias Nicklas

John, Jeffrey
The Meaning in the Miracles
Reviewed by Kevin Larsen

Levine, Amy-Jill, ed.
A Feminist Companion to the Acts of the Apostles
Reviewed by Kimberly Stratton

Murphy-O'Connor, Jerome
Paul: His Story
Reviewed by Timothy Gombis

Prieur, Jean-Marc
La résurrection chez les Peres
Reviewed by Thomas J. Kraus

Williams, David J.
Paul's Metaphors: Their Context and Character
Reviewed by Tobias Nicklas

Dempsey, Carol J. and Mary Margaret Pazdan, eds.
Earth, Wind, and Fire: Biblical and Theological Perspectives on Creation
Reviewed by Rudolph De Wet Oosthuizen

Grabbe, Lester and Robert D. Haak, eds.
Knowing the End from the Beginning: The Prophetic, Apocalyptic and their Relationships
Reviewed by Konrad Schmid

Hoppe, Leslie J.
There Shall Be No Poor Among You: Poverty in the Bible
Reviewed by Kari Latvus

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Normal service will be resumed . . . .

. . . . as soon as I have at least made some dent on the hundreds of emails that have accumulated, and so on.

I had a great week away. I'll comment on the "working" part of the holiday later. The restful part, the other six-sevenths, was every bit as good as I had hoped, except that the sun did not shine as much as I would have liked, and that I only got one pasty all week. For those who have asked the question, I meant Cornish Pasty, a delicious meat and vegetable filled bit of pastry, a delicacy of Cornwall, and not women's lingerie or breast implants. You'll find a particularly fantastic one at the southern most part of main-land Britain, the Lizard, Ann's Famous Pasties.