Friday, May 29, 2009

All things are better in Koine

This is lots of fun. Makes me wish I was teaching NT Greek again so that I could play it to the class a few weeks in for encouragement.

HT: Helen Ingram and Jim Davila.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Pop Classics blog

I recently commented on the fact that sometimes this blog and my Resident Alien blog intersect and Henry Nguyen drew my attention to an excellent new blog that appears to span my own interests, ancient and modern. The Pop Classics blog is the work of a final year PhD student at my former institution, the University of Birmingham. Juliette Harrison comments on popular culture from an informed, classics expert's perspective. I am delighted to see that so far she has commented not only on the Life of Brian but also on one of the great historical episodes of recent Doctor Who, The Fires of Pompeii

In Our Time: St Paul

This morning's In Our Time on Radio 4 was about the Apostle Paul, with a good panel made up of John Barclay, Helen Bond and John Haldane. You can listen online or download the podcast for the next week.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Miracle Maker available to view on Hulu

Many thanks to Henry Nguyen for sharing the good news that The Miracle Maker is available to view in full on Hulu:

[Video now deleted]

I have always been a fan of this claymation film, which I first saw in 1999 at a screening at the NEC in Birmingham, with writer Murray Watts afterwards doing a life Q&A. For more on the film, see Matt Page's posts on the Bible Films Blog. My own page on it, along with the other Celluloid Jesus site, is down for a major overhaul at the moment, but I hope to reintroduce the site again this summer.

It's not the first Jesus film to appear on Hulu. Matt Page recently noted on the Bible Films blog that the Last Temptation of Christ is also available, though only for US audiences. I imagine that the same is true of The Miracle Maker.

Update (11 February 2015): this is no longer available on Hulu.

Apocalypse of Peter Greek Text online

Here is another one that fell between the sites in the recent shake-up, my transcription of the Greek text of the Apocalypse of Peter. It's only now in doing an inventory that I notice that I had allowed it to disappear after four years on the web.  It's the Greek text of the Apocalypse of Peter from Lic. Dr. Erich Klostermann (ed.), Apocrypha I: Reste Des Petrusevangeliums, Der Petrus-Apocakalypse und des Kerygmati Petri (Bonn: A. Marcus und E. Weber’s Verlag, 1903): 8-11, in a simple file in a unicode font. The files are now found here in Word format and PDF:

The Apocalypse of Peter (Akhmim Fragment) [MS Word]

Apocalypse of Peter (Akhmim Fragment) [PDF]

[Note: files updated -- corrected typos -- 30 June 2017]

SBL Dating Paper

I realized this evening that in the shake up of my websites and blogs earlier this year, I forgot to relocate my SBL paper on "Dating the Crucial Sources in Early Christianity". I have now done so:

Dating the Crucial Sources for Early Christianity (MS Word)

Dating the Crucial Sources for Early Christianity (PDF)

It's a draft so it remains "work in progress". I am not sure at this stage how long I will keep it on the web. I will almost certainly not publish it in its current format but will borrow some parts of it for expansion elsewhere.

I have noticed a few other things that have gone missing from the web in the transition, and I will be uploading those in due course too.

Historical Jesus Missing Pieces Addendum: The Wrong Pose

In a recent post, Historical Jesus Missing Pieces III: Putting Pieces in the Wrong Place, I talked about the potential in Historical Jesus studies for taking the pieces we have and putting them in the wrong place.  The analogy I worked with was Gideon Mantell's initial reconstruction of the Iguanadon in which he put what turned out to be the animal's pointed thumb on its head, as a horn.   I began thinking about this problem after a recent visit to the natural history museum in Washington DC where the story was mentioned, briefly, in a dinosaur exhibit.  Then yesterday an interesting story appeared on the BBC News website:

Victoria Gill
Diplodocus's impressive neck sweeps along the main hall of London's Natural History museum, welcoming its visitors.

Now, findings suggest that 150 million years ago the giant may have held its head higher for much of the time.

By studying the skeletons of living vertebrates, Mike Taylor, from the University of Portsmouth, and his team, reshaped the dinosaur's resting pose . . . .
It's a story I enjoyed because it might help us further to develop analogies for the reconstructive process in Historical Jesus research. Even if we have a pretty good collection of data, just how good are we at arranging those data in the right way? In my next post in this series, I will provide a couple of examples of the kind of thing that I am referring to.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Back to Q

Regular readers will know of my interest in the Synoptic Problem and Q and it's nice to see the topic returning again to the blogosphere, first in Kevin Scull's Paul of Tarsus and Pat McCullough's kata ta biblia and then in Mike Koke's The Golden Rule. Mike asks whether most bloggers accept the existence of Q or not. My impression is that things are even-stephens on this. A couple of years ago, Brandon Wason ran a Synoptic Problem Poll on his now defunct Novum Testamentum blog. The poll had the Two-Source Theory coming out on top, but Farrer hot in its heels. I made some fairly lengthy comments in Synoptic Problem Poll: Some Reflections, and then more briefly in More on the Synoptic Problem Poll.

Mike is a "believer in Q" who is "relying on Stein's book". I like Robert Stein's book but I find it a little unbalanced on the question of Q. Stein mentions the Farrer theory but does not engage with it, and the arguments Stein presents for the existence of Q are a little weak. Mike helpfully summarizes them as follows:
The reason why some argue that Luke is not just copying Matthew is because Luke rarely has Matthean additions to the triple tradition (e.g. Mark 1:32-34/Matt 8:16-17/Luke 4:40-41; Mark 2:23-28/Matt 12:1-8/Luke 6:1-5; Mark 4:10-12/Matt 13:10-15/Luke 8:9-10), places the “Q” material in different contexts (e.g. why would Luke break up Matt’s beautiful Sermon on the Mount?), Matt/Luke never agree in order against Mark, Luke’s lack of “M” material (e.g. the visit of the Magi, Matt’s great commision), “doublets” (sayings appearing in Mark and in “Q” material), etc.
I have never been able to find myself persuaded by arguments like these and I attempt some counter arguments in my Case Against Q, and in introductory format in The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze.  In brief, each of these arguments is problematic for a variety of reasons, but I'll pick some of my favourite reasons here and state them as concisely as I can:

"Luke rarely has Matthean additions to the triple tradition": actually, Luke regularly has Matthean additions to the triple tradition but Two-Source theorists re-categorize them as "Mark-Q overlaps" and ignore them for the purpose of this argument.

Luke "places the “Q” material in different contexts (e.g. why would Luke break up Matt’s beautiful Sermon on the Mount?)":  Luke treats double tradition sayings material the same way that he treats triple tradition sayings material.  Where there are long discourses in Mark (e.g. 4.1-34), Luke retains some, omits some and redistributes the rest, just as when he finds long discourses in Matthew.  It is just that there are more of them in Matthew, and they are much longer.

"Matt/Luke never agree in order against Mark": In fact they often do;  even Streeter had to build the exceptions into his statement of the supposed rule by noting that they agree all the way through chapters 3 and 4. 

Luke’s lack of “M” material (e.g. the visit of the Magi, Matt’s great commision):  "M" material is by definition not in Q; of course Luke lacks "M".  Luke omits the visit of the magi because of his negative attitude to magi and sorcerers.  The Great Commission is reworded at the end of Luke.

Doublets: an argument that would only be convincing if all doublets could be explained source-critically, which they cannot on the Two-Source Theory.

Well, those answers are a little brief, and there is a lot more to be said to tease out the problems with the traditional arguments for Q, but offer these as concise indications that the arguments for Q may need some more thought.

Why blog?

Jim West has a forthright post on Blogging: To What End?, partly in response to my post Academic Blogging: Publication, Service or Teaching, itself in response to Stephen Carlson on Hypotyposeis. I have a few quick comments on Jim's post. First, I blog because I enjoy it and I know that some of my readers enjoy it. If I stopped enjoying it, or if my readers stopped enjoying it, I would stop doing it. The question about where to file it in an academic application is, I think, a reasonable one, but one's answer to that question is clearly not the same as one's answer to the question "Why blog?" Indeed, as I said in the recent post, I sometimes reflect that I could have got a lot more done (publications wise) without blogging or doing other web work. But I do that work because I enjoy it.

Second, I think that Jim is unfair to Jim Davila in this post and I would encourage him to rethink those comments.

Third, let me respond directly to the comments about me:
Mark Goodacre has subdivided his blogging life into a strictly ‘professional’ offering and a thoroughly ‘personal’. But again, why? Do the two worlds never intersect? Can any of us really subdivide our lives and compartmentalize them so thoroughly that we have a ‘professional’ and a ‘private’ life? And what does that say about our forthrightness?
The reason that I do this is that I have friends and family and other casual readers who are not interested in academic New Testament scholarship, but who enjoy reading my occasional posts over on The Resident Alien. Likewise, I do not presume that people who come to the NT Blog for material about Biblical scholarship will be interested in life as a British expat, Doctor Who, Abba or whatever else.  Of course the two worlds often intersect, which is why I sometimes cross-refer from one blog to the other. Other bloggers have made other decisions about posting on non-academic issues, and I have no problem with that. Each to his or her own.

The latter part of Jim's post suggests that James Crossley, Roland de Boer and a few others are "examples of honest academics" while a "legion" of others are engaging in dishonesty, hypocrisy and more. I think my own feeling is that the bloggers in our field are an honest bunch and I am sorry to see that Jim apparently thinks otherwise.

More on the Duke Conference on Archaeology, Media and Politics

Over on Bible and Interpretation, Paul Flesher has a lucid, detailed and interesting account of the recent Duke Conference on Archaeology, Media and Politics:

Seeking the Sacred Past
Paul Flesher

Thanks to Mark Elliott for pointing it out to me; blogged also already by Jim West.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Academic Blogging: Publication, Service or Teaching?

Over on Hypotyposeis, Stephen Carlson asks the interesting question Academic Blogging: Publication or Service?
A friend of mine at the annual meeting of the North American Patristics Society (NAPS) reported that a speaker at a session on scholarly publishing observed that blogging tended to count more as service instead of publications for one’s academic career (read: tenure and promotion). On the face of it, this observation seems plausible--one’s web work does count, but not as a replacement for publishing. My questions are: is this really the case? and is this a good way to evaluate the role of blogging in conjunction with one’s academic career?
This is a question that I have occasionally discussed here, and it is one of interest to any of us who spend a lot of time blogging. Frankly, I do sometimes ask myself whether the time I spend blogging (or on the NT Gateway, or other web projects) would have been better spend writing more books and articles. But always, in the end, I decide that it is a worthwhile chunk of time, not least because blogging and web work occupy a space that overlaps with all the other elements in an academic's life, teaching, research and service. Its relevance for research and writing is obvious -- it is a place to develop one's ideas and to try out new things, often in discussion with others.  Scholarship is a communal and not a solitary activity, and blogging at its best can underline the communal nature of good scholarship.

In a previous discussion on this kind of topic, Should Blogs Count for Tenure?, I responded to the question of how I would assess applicants who were bloggers:
I know that I would always look favourably on someone who has an intelligent and energetic blog, whether as potential applicants to a graduate programme, or as job applicants, or as applicants for tenure. To me it is likely to suggest several things, a commitment to the dissemination of scholarship outside of the guild, a commitment to collaborative scholarship, and some degree of courage and public risk-taking. So I would be strongly inclined to treat blogging as a plus. I suppose that this is what Davidson means in her reference to blogging as fulfilling the all important "service to the guild" requirement for gaining tenure. [Context here] But I think that it is potentially much more than that. For one thing, blogs can be continuous with published work, so that the lines between publication and blog are blurred. In those cases, it's not a bolted on extra, but is integral to the research and publication process. One might even be using the blog as a means of developing published materials. There are multiple examples of this kind of thing as when people develop conference papers on-line and then use a blog as a means of doing research, gauging reaction and improving the output.
However, I think that now I would want to stress more the role that blogging can play in good teaching, as a place to discuss elements that come up in the process of teaching, to reflect on how things have gone, or to try out new ideas. I suspect that it is this latter category that actually weighs most strongly with appointment, promotion and tenure committees, and I would be inclined to stress this element in the obligatory category on "innovation" in teaching. A blog in which teaching methods and content is discussed is a demonstration of one's commitment to thinking through pedagogy.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

What type of scholar are you? Redux

Over on the SBL Forum, Michael Bird and Craig Keener have an enjoyable article entitled Jack of All Trades and Master of None: The Case for “Generalist” Scholars in Biblical Scholarship. The pieces picks up from one of Mike's old blog articles, Specialist or Generalist? from August 2005. I commented at the time with What type of NT Scholar are you? and I thought I would take the liberty of revisiting and revising that post here.

The title of my post on that occasion came from Sean Winter's on Sean the Baptist (post no longer available).  One of the elements that was in the Euangelion blog post but does not appear in the article is the following: 
If you can’t actually attend conferences at least read the seminar paper topics for various conferences like SBL, ETS, SNTS etc. Ask authors to email you their paper if you are interested in their seminar paper and you can’t attend.
This is a good suggestion, and will add: don't just go to papers in the narrow area of your own research -- try to take an interest in as many as possible. Always attend plenary sessions where possible. A related but key point I'd also add would be perhaps too obvious for mentioning, but still vital:
Talk to people: at the conferences take an interest in other people's research, and when they are working in an area you are not familiar with, ask them what one ought to be reading in that area. What are that person's pick of the last few years' books? What are the interesting ideas that deserve attention? Who are the "ones to watch" in that area?
I think the best way out of being a narrow specialist is to keep on talking, and to be humble.  Sean the Baptist went on, in the post no longer present, to quote a fascinating characterisation of the different kinds of scholar, from an assessment by John Knox of John A. T. Robinson:
To be sure, there are many scholars so gifted and accomplished as not to be typical in either sense ... But for the larger number of us I believe one may say that the worker in New Testament studies will belong to one type or the other - to the more knowledgeable or the more imaginative. And I would maintain that the door to being a true, and even a distinguished, scholar is as widely open to the second type as to the first

John Knox, "J. A. T. Robinson and the Meaning of New Testament Scholarship", Theology 92 (1989), 251-267 (here p.256)
It's a fabulous quotation, and I love the idea of being "as widely open to the second type as the first".  This is a great way of making sure that one avoids the pitfalls of both. I would add that it is not easy to answer the "Specialist or Generalist?" question towards the beginning of one's career.  And most of us bibliobloggers are relatively young, at least in sometmes crusty old academic world.  Sometimes we become associated with a particular narrow area because we have so far only published, on the whole, in one or two narrow areas, and that might make us appear to be specialists. Perhaps those who now appear "specialist" will in due course become "generalists". It's difficult to say. So I suppose it is something that one will be able to pronounce on more confidently when looking back at one's career rather than looking forward at it.

Here's a way of nuancing the question. What type of scholar do we most admire? I must admit to a fondness for what I would call "ideas" people, i.e. "the more imaginative" in Knox's characterisation above. Fundamentally, my favourite scholars are those who have the ability to think exciting new thoughts, to rework existing questions in interesting new directions. I am thinking in particular of scholars like Michael Goulder (I know, surprise, surprise) who might be criticized on various fronts, but who will never be criticized for being dull. He always makes me think about existing questions in new ways.

The example of a Michael Goulder, though, raises the question about the appropriateness of the terminology "specialist" or "generalist".   If the definition of a "generalist" is someone who has published in a variety of areas across the Testaments, then Goulder is definitely a "generalist".  But I wouldn't feel that that was a useful term to characterize him, as someone who is precise and specialized in his approach to a whole range of specific areas, from the Synoptics to Paul to Revelation, from Isaiah to Song of Songs to the Psalms.  Perhaps the ideal is to be both specialist and generalist, or, to be a specialist in a wide range of different areas.

It may be that the characterisation, then, is too simplistic to be useful. We can all think of work-a-day scholars whose special ability is to keep on top of a range of material, both primary and secondary, but who have nothing very interesting to say about any of it.  The best scholars are those who combine imagination and insight with knowledge and wisdom. The greatest of all living NT scholars in my book typifies this combination, E. P. Sanders. He radically rethinks consensus positions, lucidly explicating his own views, at which he has arrived on the basis of extensive but careful reading of the primary materials.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Historical Jesus Missing Pieces III: Putting Pieces in the Wrong Place

In a couple of recent posts, I have been reflecting on the question, The Historical Jesus: What if the key pieces are missing? with a follow-up post, The Historical Jesus: More on those missing pieces. I would now like to turn to a related problem that is again insufficiently considered by those engaging in the quest. What if we are putting the pieces we have in the wrong place?  The fact of absent data has a direct impact on our reconstructions of the historical Jesus.  It may be that we are taking pieces and placing them wrongly, and that our partial record does not allow us to see where we are doing this.  Let me explain what I mean with an analogy.

Gideon Mantell was a nineteenth century British paleontologist who discovered the fossilized bones of a huge dinosaur he named an "Iguanodon".  Mantell's wife apparently discovered the bone pictured on the left (Source: Paper Dinosaurs 1824-1969) and Mantell, in his reconstruction, imagined this bone to be the dinosaur's horn and promptly placed it on the animal's nose (sketched here; illustrated here).   However, further discoveries, later in the century, made it clear that Mantell's guess was wrong.  The bone was not a horn but was instead its pointed thumb!

What if we are taking pieces of data and misapplying them? How will we be able to know? In the case of the Iguanodon, further discoveries corrected earlier reconstructions.  Absent more discoveries ofst Historical Jesus data, how can we know where we are putting (good) data into the wrong place(s)?  Another way of looking at the problem is to think of Historical Jesus research as a game of join the dots (apparently called "connect the dots" in the America) in which only a few of the dots have been given to us.  What kind of distorted picture might we be painting with only some of the dots available?

I should clarify that I am not trying to say that we cannot know anything about the life and personality of Jesus.  I am with scholars like E. P. Sanders in thinking that there is a reasonable amount that we can know about the historical Jesus.  My point is that saying some things with reasonable confidence is not the same thing as being able to provide something approaching a complete picture. It is the unavoidable fact of studying ancient figures that our information will be partial and, worse, that the parts that we have will not always be the ones that would be most telling.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Death and the Dating of Thomas and the Gospels

Although we should be careful of tracking over-simple lines of inevitable evolution in our early documents, there are occasions where one can see a reflection of a document's general dating by oberving shifting perspectives.  I recently suggested that one such example is the ever increasing presence of authorial self-representation.  Another example occurs over the question of death in the early Gospels.  In Mark and Matthew, where death is envisaged it is violent death in the present.  And where they speak about the future, natural death is scarcely ever in view.  Instead, people are snatched away at the eschaton, or go to their judgement.  With the later Luke, though, natural death begins to appear, notably on two occasions in the L parable material, the Rich Fool (Luke 12.13-21) and Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16.19-31), both of which feature rich men dying, and not at the end of the age.  In Dives and Lazarus, the rest of the world continues on its ordinary way while the protagonists are in Hades and Abraham's bosom respectively.

Thomas, typically, is further along the same trajectory.  Although there are references to violent death (e.g. Logion 98), the references to natural death are now more common than they were in the Synoptics, as in these sayings (Lambdin's translation):
59: Jesus said, "Take heed of the living one while you are alive, lest you die and seek to see him and be unable to do so."

109: Jesus said, "The kingdom is like a man who had a hidden treasure in his field without knowing it. And after he died, he left it to his son. The son did not know (about the treasure). He inherited the field and sold it. And the one who bought it went ploughing and found the treasure. He began to lend money at interest to whomever he wished."
Logion 59 occurs in a cluster of material in which life and death is a key thread, from logia 58-61 and again in 63.   Logion 109 shows us that as in Luke, natural death is now a feature of the parable material.  Indeed Thomas's parallel to the Rich Fool (Luke 12.15-21 // Thomas 63) ends with the narration of the man's death ("that same night he died") rather than the death being implied in God's address, as in Luke.  

Perhaps the clearest example of the same phenomenon occurs in Thomas's version of a the double tradition saying Matt. 24.40-1 // Luke 17.34-5.  Luke's version of the Matthean saying is closest to Thomas's but both Matthew and Luke speak of people being "taken" rather than dying:
Luke 17.34-5: "I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed.  One will be taken and the other left.  There will be two women grinding together.  One will be taken and the other left." 

Thomas 61: Jesus said, "Two will rest on a bed: the one will die, and the other will live."
Thomas, even more than Luke, comes from a time where natural deaths have found their way into the representation of Jesus' teaching.  It's one small sign among several others that Thomas belongs to a slightly later historical context.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Historical Jesus: More on those missing pieces

In my post The Historical Jesus: What if key pieces are missing?, I suggested that we need to proceed with a greater degree of caution than is usual in the quest. It is in the nature of ancient history that the data we have is partial as well as prejudiced. We should be wary of proceeding as if we could retrieve everything we need to retrieve if only we hone our methods carefully enough.

I am grateful for some interesting comments on that post as well as a helpful post by Loren Rosson on The Busybody, Thoroughgoing Eschatology and Thoroughgoing Humility, including an apposite quotation from John Meier,
And yet the vast majority of these deeds and words, the "reasonably complete" record of the "real" Jesus, is irrevocably lost to us today. This is no new insight of modern agnostic scholars. Traditionally Christianity has spoken of "the hidden years" of Jesus' life -- which amounted to all but three or four of them! (A Marginal Jew, Vol I, p. 22).
In spite of the salutary reminder, though, Meier sometimes talks as if we can make conclusions with confidence about the "total" pattern of Jesus' activity as, for example, in this excerpt:
I would suggest that, if we are to continue to use the problematic category of "unique" in describing the historical Jesus, perhaps it is best to use it not so much of individual sayings or deeds of Jesus as of the total Gestalt, the total configuration or pattern of this Jew who proclaimed the present yet future kingdom, who was also an itinerant prophet and miracle worker in the guise of Elijah, who was also a teacher and interpreter of the Mosaic Law, who was also a charismatic leader who called disciples to follow him at great price, who was also a religious personage whose perceived messianic claims wound up getting him crucified by the Roman prefect, in the end, a crucified religious figure who was soon proclaimed by his followers as risen from the dead and Lord of all. It is this total and astounding configuration of traits and claims that makes for the uniqueness of Jesus as a historical figure within 1st-century Judaism. (The Present State of the "Third Quest" for the Historical Jesus, 476-7).
In context, Meier is making a broader point about Jesus' uniqueness and how to configure that uniqueness, but in the course of making that point, he works with a presumption that it is possible to generate a "total" configuration or pattern for Jesus. He is assuming that all the really important elements about Jesus were retained somewhere in the tradition and that these enable us to make claims with a degree of confidence about some kind of complete picture.  

The desire to draw a complete picture is in fact necessary to the claims about Jesus' uniqueness.  If key pieces of data are missing, we are not able to speak confidently about his "uniqueness", especially when it comes to theological claims.   Dennis Nineham sounded a warning about this over thirty years ago in his "Epilogue" at the end of The Myth of God Incarnate (London: SCM, 1977), 186-204, a piece that effectively undermined many of the claims made in the earlier part of that famous collection of essays.   Where the essayists often spoke about Jesus' unique relationship with God, and so on, Nineham questioned whether such claims can be made with any kind of confidence in responsible historical research.

One of the scholars mentioned by Nineham is Joachim Jeremias, who is also famous for his claim that Jesus' address to God as "Abba", in private prayer, was utterly unique.  The claim is of course a problematic one  because of the paucity of evidence of Jews' private prayer in antiquity.  Perhaps Jesus' address was unique but we could never know.  It is the nature of ancient history that our source material, especially on matters like this, is seriously limited.  There is an extent to which contemporary Jesus researchers have pulled back from bold claims like those made by Jeremias, but that same assumption, that all the really important data is present somewhere, and is sufficiently robust for us to be able to make large claims, still underlies a lot of our thinking about the historical Jesus.

Mason and Murphy O'Connor on where Jesus was born -- redux

It is clearly the week of resurrections. Just off the Biblical Archaeology Society's twitter scroll is notice of the return of a "classic" BAS couple of articles:

Jesus' Nativity -- Where was Jesus born? (And when?)
Jerome Murphy O'Connor
Steve Mason

By my reckoning, this has been off the web for at least six years, and probably longer. Back in the day, it was a "featured link" over on the NT Gateway. It is good news that BAS are taking some time to bring back some of their lost online content.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Return of the Gospel of Thomas Bibliography

On Thursday, I blogged about the Gospel of Thomas Bibliography authored by Sytze van der Laan, which disappeared from the internet in 2000. Within days of that post appearing, Sytze van der Laan popped up on the Gospel of Thomas e-list and announced that the site is back at a new location. Is this the longest hiatus in the history of Christian origins websites? Well, it is very welcome. Here is the new link:

Gospel of Thomas: Bibliography, Coptic and Greek Texts

I have, of course, returned it to the NT Gateway page on the Gospel of Thomas and have added a note on the blog over there about other new items on that page.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Centurion's Cry Once More (briefly)

Further to my previous posts, The Centurion's Sarcastic Cry in Mark 15.39 and More on the Centurion's Sarcastic Cry in Mark 15.39, I would like to thank Earl Johnson for letting me know about two articles he has written on Mark 15.39, one of which is accessible free to all online:

Earl S. Johnson, Jr., "Mark 15,39 and the So-Called Confession of the Roman Centurion", Biblica 81 (2000): 406-413

E. S. Johnson, "Is Mark 15:39 the Key to Mark’s Christology?", JSNT 31 (1987): 3-22

I have not had a chance to read the latter yet, but the former makes a good case that we should not read this as a "confession" in the normally accepted sense of that word, though without specifically suggesting that the cry is sarcastic or ironic. See too comments by Neil Godfrey on Vridar, also with a mention of the articles by Johnson.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Pricing of Continuum books UK vs US

Jim West comments on the high price of books in the Library of New Testament Studies series, with Michael Pahl's Discerning the "Word of the Lord" @ $120 in the USA.  My role as series editor does not stretch to budgetary matters, but I have to agree that this does seem very expensive, and there is an anomaly in that the US price is substantially more than the UK price, £60, which is about $91 at the current exchange rate.  So it would of course be cheaper to buy it from the UK, even with the extra postage and packing.  Of course it is expensive to produce academic books with a limited print run, but I will talk to the people at Continuum about the current pricing policy to see if there are ways that we can help individual scholars to bear the cost, rather as -- in days of old -- there were special reductions for individual scholars who wished to buy volumes in the series.

Presenting Papers Redux

AKMA has some interesting (if unnecessarily self-deprecating) comments on his blog about the issue of presenting papers, Uh. . . No, And This Is. . . Uh. . . Why. I have been engaging in a little discussion in the comments thread there and I would like to expand those comments here in reintroducing one of the perennial topics of my blog, on presenting academic papers. As regular readers will know, I am an advocate of putting thought into the way that papers are presented at conferences. I favour presenting rather than reading, for the reasons often mentioned here. AKMA comments, however, that speaking from notes rather than a manuscript can generate too many "um"s and "ah"s with distracting consequences for the listener.

As I commented on AKMA's blog, I should add here that I have no problem in principle with people presenting from manuscripts; in fact, I have sometimes done so myself. The last time was a paper I read on the Gospel of Thomas at our NT and Early Judaism colloquium here at Duke two years ago. Then I felt that the most appropriate means of communicating was the read-aloud manuscript, with pauses for ad hoc comments, and a hand-out with the synopses and details.

My concerns are not about the use of manuscripts per se but rather about the manner of reading from manuscripts common in conferences in our field. Manuscripts are often read aloud as if the author is unfamiliar with the material. I am always amazed to hear people reading out their own words as if they are seeing them for the first time. What happens, I suspect, is that people spend so long writing the paper that they do not put any effort into thinking about how to present it. One way of tackling this problem is to avoid reading at all, which forces one instead to put effort into thinking how to present. In the case of some scholars who are skilled in the presentation of manuscripts, this kind of issue does not obtain. A good example of this is Tom Wright. Whatever you think of his theology, his presentation skills are superb, and he appears to present from a pre-written manuscript, with a lot of thought going into the rhetoric of the piece. AKMA is clearly in the same tradition. In a way, the format of the script is not the important thing; it is the presentation of that script, whatever form the script itself takes.

I don’t think I am interested in spontaneity or faux spontaneity so much as I am in attempting to find the best way of presenting the material. I don’t now think of my developing style as “extemporaneous” or “semi-extemporaneous” because I think those terms can be taken to imply that the approach involves little investment of effort in the presentation. On the contrary, the choice to present rather than to read aloud involves a huge additional investment of time and energy. What I like to attempt is to memorize the structure and content of the talk, to be so familiar with the material that it is possible to pace it without difficulty. As it happens, I always have a manuscript handy in case I crash and burn, and I know at any given point where I can pick it up in case I need to.

One of the advantages of presenting rather than reading is, for me, to be able to see the audience, to make eye contact and to communicate with them directly. We are all influenced by the teachers we most admired and in this, I know of no better teacher than Michael Goulder, who occasionally read-aloud (e.g. at sit-down colloquia) but usually presented from memory, all the time engaging directly and lucidly with the audience, who loved it.

But the element that I am keen to advocate is not any particular style of presentation, even if I remain convinced that reading-papers-aloud does not work for me. Rather, I am keen to continue to press for some consideration of the dynamics of presentation. I would like to see more scholars putting serious thought into how people will be most able to hear, understand and engage with what is being said.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Michael Pahl, Discerning the "Word of the Lord"

I was delighted to receive in the post a copy of Michael Pahl, Discerning the "Word of the Lord": "The Word of the Lord" in 1 Thessalonians 4:15. Michael was a PhD student at the University of Birmingham, and I was privileged to be his supervisor (later also with David Parker, when I left Birmingham for Duke). I thought his PhD an excellent piece of work, and it is a great thrill now to see a revised version in print. Many bloggers will also know Michael from his Stuff of Earth, which is currently on hiatus but we hope will return one day. Here are the full details of the new book:

Discerning the "Word of the Lord"
"The Word of the Lord" in 1 Thessalonians 4:15

Michael W. Pahl

Pub Date: 07 Jul 2009
ISBN: 0567455653
ISBN13: 9780567455659
224 Pages

Series: The Library of New Testament Studies

Subject Biblical Studies, New Testament and 1 & 2 Thessalonians

Imprint T & T Clark International


Investigates the well-known exegetical problem of identifying the referent of the phrase “Word of the Lord” in 1 Thessalonians 4:15.


In 1 Thessalonians 4:15, the Apostle Paul appeals to a “word of the Lord” to provide authority for his eschatological encouragement. This appeal has left a perplexing problem related to the nature and function of the specific authority to which the phrase refers. Two theories have predominated in the history of interpretation: either 1) it refers to a directly received prophetic revelation, whether to Paul or to another Christian prophet; or 2) it refers to a teaching of Jesus received as tradition, whether preserved in the Gospel tradition or otherwise unknown. This book investigates this problem from three angles: epistemological analysis, examining Paul’s authorities for his knowledge, particularly in his eschatology; linguistic analysis, including both grammatical and lexical study of the phrase; and contextual analysis, setting the statement within its historical and literary contexts. These approaches converge to suggest a fresh solution to the problem: while Paul does appear to employ traditional Christian eschatological teaching in his response to the Thessalonian crisis (4:16-17a), the phrase ἐν λόγῳ κυρίου does not refer to this tradition, but rather refers to the proclaimed gospel message about Jesus centred on his death and resurrection which forms the theological foundation of Paul’s response (cf. 4:14).
Michael W. Pahl took his Ph.D. in Theology from the University of Birmingham, U.K., and has taught New Testament studies in Canada and the U.K.

Gospel of Thomas Bibliography

Back in the 1990s there was an excellent Gospel of Thomas bibliography by Sytze van der Laan, a student of Tjitze Baarda. It disappeared in 2000 and as far as I know, no one knows anything of Sytze's whereabouts since then. At the time, I tried to email Sytze and never had any success in getting back in touch with him. When I was searching for an article on Thomas today, I was reminded of this bibliography and decided to go and look for it on the Way Back Machine. I tried few URLs and found several archived versions of the site, the most recent one of which is here:

Gospel of Thomas site: Sytze van der Laan

It is one of the sadder features of the internet's coming of age that great sites like this get lost. It's one of the great things about the internet that so often comes to the rescue. I had forgotten that the site was more comprehensive than just a bibliography. The bibliography is pretty thorough up to 1998 or so. It makes me wonder about the possibilities of rescuing this bibliography and beginning a new, online, collaborative, up to date version.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Audio from the Bible, Archaeology and Media Symposium

Thanks to Jim West for mentioning that the full audio is now available for the Duke Archaeology, Politics and Media Symposium, hosted at ASOR:

Audio of Duke Conference on Archaeology, Politics and the Media

Please excuse me for also mentioning that the audio of my talk is available here, and the associated powerpoint presentation here (.ppt) and here (.mht). (I don't have the rights to upload anyone else's talks, of course). AKMA's response is available on the ASOR blog too.

Things Jim West never wants to see #4

There are some things that Jim West apparently never wants to see. Here's number 4. Bad luck, Jim. I have the complete set of Documenta Q too.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

New logo

I decided that it was time for a new logo for the NT blog and it's now uploaded. It is very simple because I am not a very complex person. The fact that my design skills are minimal has nothing to do with it.

Guardian's British University League Tables published

The Guardian has published its league tables for teaching excellence for 2010. Here is the University league table, with Oxford coming top, Cambridge second and St Andrews third:

University League Table 2010

There are also tables for individual subject areas. Here's the one for Religious Studies and Theology:

University Guide 2010: Religious Studies and Theology

It's the same top three, Oxford, Cambridge and St Andrews, but in this subject area Durham ranks for more highly (4th) than the institution as a whole (14th). I'm naturally delighted to see my alma mater topping both charts, but sorry to see my former employer, University of Birmingham, down at a sorry 24 in both lists. Heythrop College, another former employer, is at an honourable 14 in the Religious Studies and Theology list. One obvious success story is the ranking of the Scottish Universities, with St Andrews, Edinburgh and Glasgow in the Religious Studies and Theology Top 10, and Aberdeen bubbling under at 11. Oxford Brookes is impressive at 12, and I suspect that Sheffield, Manchester and Nottingham will be disappointed to miss out on the Top 10.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Bibliography of Michael Goulder's works

Back in 1996, I published a book called Goulder and the Gospels: An Examination of a New Paradigm (JSNTSup. 133; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), a slightly revised version of my Oxford DPhil thesis of 1994. At the end of the book I included a comprehensive bibliography of Michael Goulder's works. I have long been meaning to update that bibliography to include the several books and many articles that Michael has published since then. Having recently been lucky enough to have read Michael's memoir in manuscript, this gave me the opportunity I had been looking for to get that bibliography updated. I have uploaded it to the web for those interested, in PDF format. Please let me know if you spot any errors or omissions:

Update: Revised 12 May, with thanks to Ken Olson for two missing items.
Update: Revised 8 March 2010.

Appeals to "the majority of scholars"

I am just finishing work on a comprehensive bibliography of Michael Goulder and came across this enjoyable footnote in an essay on the resurrection (“The Explanatory Power of Conversion-Visions”. In Paul Copan, and Ronald K. Tacelli (eds.), Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment? : a Debate between William Lane Craig & Gerd Lüdemann (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 2000): 102).  where, in context, he is discussing the views of William Craig, who appeals to "the majority of scholars":
One should always be wary when appeal is made to "the majority of scholars," for it tends to exclude any new idea.  Where would Galileo or Darwin have got to if they had bowed to it?
And I suppose too that the point should be extended to the reception of new ideas, not just the instigation of those new ideas.  Lots of new ideas turn out to be horribly wrong, but it is rarely a good argument against them to appeal to what the majority thinks.

I wonder if it is one of those areas where we allow ourselves to be unduly influenced in our research and writing by the constraints of pedagogy.  When we teach, we naturally have to paint a picture of the majority view, even where we disagree with that view.  Perhaps our attempts to understand where the majority view is can inadvertently cause us to give value to that view and so to argue as if good scholarship is about counting heads.

The Jastrow Project

Rob Letchford has been in touch to tell me about the Jastrow Project, details here:

Marcus Jastrow's Dictionary of Targumim, Talmud and Midrashic Literature is a classic and is already available online at Tyndale House, but the new project aims to make the text fully searchable in PDFs.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

More on the Centurion's Sarcastic Cry in Mark 15.39

I am grateful for all the helpful feedback on my post on The Centurion's Sarcastic Cry in Mark 15.39 last week, especially here on the blog, where dozens of comments provided helpful biblioblography and some excellent engagement with the issue.  On Primal Subversion, Sean helpfully gathers together several quotations from commentaries on Mark 15.39 and concludes that the ironic / sarcastic reading is preferable.  Other blog  commenters found support for the interpretation in a variety of places, from Alexander Roberts in 1862 to Stephen Moore in 2008.

What, though, of John Fenton?  Other than my own representation of the John Fenton oral tradition, which dates to the mid 1980s, there is nothing more specific at this point.  But several have been able to help me out with Donald Juel's views.  It is quite clear that he held the same view, apparently independently of Fenton, and it is mentioned in a variety of places, including Messiah and Temple and the Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament (see comments for details).  I picked up a copy of Donald H. Juel, Master of Surprise: Mark Interpreted (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994), which features the following little footnote (74, n. 7):
I have come to believe that even "Son of God" in 15.39 ought probably be read as a taunt ("Sure, this was God's Son"), in accord with the rest of the taunts in the account of Jesus' trial and death.  The centurion plays a role assigned all Jesus' enemies: They speak the truth in mockery, thus providing for the reader ironic testimony to the truth.
I found a little more of interest in Beverly Roberts Gaventa and Patrick D. Miller (eds.), The Ending of Mark and the Ends of God: Essays in Memory of Donald Harrisville Juel (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2005).  The essay by Michael Welker, "Baptism as Change of Lordship" (107-14) quotes one of Juel's former students to the following effect:
Like a critic who delights in investigating and revealing the secrets behind magicians' illusions, Don dissected people's biblical exegesis, often wondering aloud why so much knowledge about texts and their histories prevented us from actually reading the texts. Likewise, he eagerly exposed students' hermeneutical assumptions, not necessarily to invalidate them but always to impel us to acknowledge and examine them.  His sarcastic reading of the centurion's 'confession' in Mark 15.39 best illustrates this practice.  While reading the passion narrative aloud, he would voice, 'Sure this was God's son!' with acerbic scorn.  He clearly enjoyed the effects of the reading as much as he believed it a faithful rendering of Mark's account.  His bold interpretation sounded alarms among students, driving us to the text to examine its contours for evidence to support various readings (Quoted from Matthew L. Skinner, "Mark a Life: A Tribute to Don Juel," inSpire 8/1 (2003), 33).
Some remain unconvinced by this reading and prefer to see Mark's centurion as making a true confession of some kind.  Mike Parsons asks about Matthew's apparent misunderstanding of Mark's intent.  My guess on that front is that Matthew is not so much misunderstanding as changing and re-conceptualizing.  One might see Matthew's version of the story, the so-called "Zombie Pericope" (Matt. 27.51-54), as providing the reader with a new and explicit reason for the centurions' (now plural) confession. Matthew often explicates Mark’s mysteries in this way, and here he provides a scene that can genuinely impress the centurion and those with him, a truly apocalyptic breaking up of the earth, as heaven declares the momentous nature of Jesus’ death for the characters within the drama to see.  The crucial difference is on what the centurion(s) witness in the different versions.  Mark's centurion makes his assertion when he "saw how he died", ὅτι οὕτως ἐξέπνευσεν.  Matthew's centurion, and those with him, on the other hand, do not just see how Jesus died. They "saw the earthquake and all that had happened", which leaves the reader in no doubt that this is some kind of awed confession.

This draws attention to the key point in the Marcan narrative, that the centurion makes his remark when he sees how Jesus dies. It is the reader who sees the veil of the temple torn in two. To speak of the temple curtain being visible from Golgotha, whether Mark is implying inner or outer, is wishful thinking. Perhaps we are supposed to surmise that the centurion is impressed by the darkness described earlier, but that is not what the narrator isolates in order to provide the context for the centurion's remark. As far as the narrative is concerned, it is the sight of Jesus' death that causes the centurion to make this remark.

Thanks again to everyone for their informed and interesting comments.

The Golden Rule and the problem of Historical Jesus criteria

In an enjoyable post on The Busybody, Loren Rosson asks Did Jesus teach the Golden Rule? with reference to the fourth volume of John Meier's Historical Jesus project.  I haven't read the new Meier yet, but I would like to comment on something that emerges from Loren's post.  His answer is that Jesus did not teach the Golden Rule -- "Meier shows that the Golden Rule doesn't meet any of the criteria of authenticity, least of all discontinuity"; it is only singularly attested and it is "thoroughly inconsistent with Jesus' demands stated elsewhere".

Are these criteria adequate to the task of establishing that Jesus did not teach the Golden Rule? I don't think so. "Discontinuity", more commonly "dissimilarity" is a notoriously problematic criterion. There must have been substantial continuity between Jesus and his Jewish context, and between Jesus and the first Christians. Käsemann's use of the criterion of dissimilarity only served to create a Lutheran Jesus. Single attestation (Matthew or Q) is, of course, problematic if one is a fan of the criterion of multiple attestation, but those of us who are sceptical about the existence of Q, the independence of Thomas or the independence of John have precious few independent sources anyway. And the alleged inconsistency of this saying with Jesus' other ethical teaching presupposes a use of the criterion of coherence that is at variance with the likelihood that Jesus was inconsistent, like other charismatic leaders of new religious movements (Jack T. Sanders).

But even if these criteria were strong, it is in the nature of criteria in historical research that they cannot demonstrate what Jesus did not say. The point of the criteria, as I see it, should be to help us to work out where the strongest evidence can be found, to adjudicate on what material is the securest in our pool. In other words, we might decide to avoid the use of a particular saying in our reconstruction of the Historical Jesus because that saying is not part of what we think we know for sure.  But that is different from saying that Jesus did not say the thing in question.

Dealing with "miracles" in Historical Jesus Class

April DeConick currently has an interesting series running headed Creating Jesus and there are several points where I have been tempted to comment but have not found a moment.  Comments from Rafael on Verily, Verily on the post about the miraculous reminded me of some comments I was going to make about the way that I approach the miraculous in my historical Jesus classes. 

In Historical Jesus classes I try to avoid the terms "miracle" and "miraculous".  As soon as the terms are out there, one is obliged to enter the complex and unwieldy philosophical debate about miracles, and it becomes difficult to make any serious progress in Jesus research.  And if I am honest, I don't have the necessary philosophical credentials to be able to make a genuinely informed contribution in that debate.  

Moreover, the term "miracle" is unhelpful in describing the way that the ancients perceived the world.  The early Christians saw God's activity in everything.  A dunamis, a "mighty work" or a "work of power" was different from God's everyday activities in scale rather than in kind.  When they talked about a dunamis, they did not see it as an event that lay outside the laws of nature but as something that specially manifested God's power, a signature event that differed from the repeated God-ordained events like the sun coming out and the rain pouring down.  

In other words, the earliest Christian writers do not appear to have had a special category of "miracle" that was different in kind from other activities of God.  The use of the term "miracle" can tempt us to think that they thought in those categories.  Now of course that does not settle the key questions about what lies behind the Gospel traditions about Jesus' healing activity, but it does help to refocus the terms of the discussion in a useful way.  

Friday, May 01, 2009

Biblical Studies Carnival 41

James McGrath has done a superb job on the latest Biblical Studies Carnival -- comprehensive, clear and often very funny: