Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rome Travel Diary I

I have been in Rome since Sunday, after several days spent in England with family in Derbyshire last week. Here in Rome I am sharing an apartment in the Trastevere district with my family and other friends. I have found Rome wonderful so far and the visit to the Coliseum yesterday the highlight -- quite breathtaking. I found time when I was last here in 2004 for a beer at a cafe next door to the coliseum, but this was my first proper visit. You can watch any number of documentaries, read any number of books and articles, but being inside the real thing is exhilarating.

Today we walked to Vatican city and spent time in St Peter's Square before going to the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. With feet aching by early evening, we walked back with thunderstorms behind us and found a nice little pizzeria off the beaten track near our apartment. Likewise last night -- a super little streetside restaurant, very reasonably priced. On both occasions I have eaten proper Italian pizza and it's been excellent.

Tomorrow morning I will be properly reminded why I am here, to participate in the SBL International Meeting which got underway tonight. It is my first SBL International and I look forward to sharing my first thoughts tomorrow. I'm on at 9am, I think, in the Pauline Epistles section, so I will need to be up bright and early.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Handout for SBL International Talk

Greetings from Rome! Travel diary and perhaps some photos to follow.

Here's the handout for my talk tomorrow entitled "Does περιβόλαιον mean “testicle” in 1 Corinthians 11.15?":

Handout (PDF)

Friday, June 26, 2009

The last time I was in Rome

Next week I'll be in Rome for the International SBL. I am looking forward very much to the experience. Here's some Youtube footage from the last time I was in Rome, with Robert Beckford, for the Channel 4 documentary, Who Wrote the Bible? (Travel Diary: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What is "redaction"? The MPs and the NT

In my most recent NT Pod (and don't forget to subscribe if you haven't had a chance to do so yet; each episode is a bite-sized 6-8 minutes long so you can slot it into your busy life), I discussed the question "What is 'redaction'?" I wanted to choose this topic for this week's podcast because I kept hearing the term in the British media in relation to the vexed question of the official publication of MP's Expenses, where the term "redacted" is being used over and over again. The term in this context is pretty different from the way that we use it in Biblical criticism. In the political context, a "redacted" document means one in which key information, usually the alleged personal or private details, has been censored or blacked out, as in the example shown here (source). In an enjoyable Telegraph blog post, Emma Hartley reflects on the word's usage:

. . . . Last night I received a text message from an Oxbridge-educated friend who works for the Times Literary Supplement from time to time, asking “What does redaction mean?” From the context, he’d clearly been watching Newsnight, which ran a piece about MPs’ expenses, and I realised that I only knew what it meant myself because I’d looked it up when we began to break this story. Before that I don’t recall ever having heard it, so to a pleasing extent it’s time and place specific - a word that the Telegraph can make a small claim on. Obviously the purpose of language is communication, but if a newspaper can’t popularise words, who can?

In my dictionary, (product placement alert) kindly supplied to the Telegraph’s offices by the Oxford University Press, it says under redact: rare. Edit text for publication. Similarly, redaction: the process of editing text for publication . . . .
Hartley's post confirms that the term has been relatively unknown in the British media, at least until recently, and the post concludes:
So redaction is bureaucrat-speak for drawing a big black line through something. And now it’s also a small part of history.
In Biblical criticism, though, the term is a much broader, all-encompassing one. It does not refer to the simple elimination of data by an evangelist ("redactor") from his source material. Rather, it refers to the whole process of editing, deleting, adding, composing and arranging materials. Here's what I give out as an introductory note for my New Testament Introduction class:
Definition: Redaction Criticism is the study of the way in which the evangelists (= “redactors”) moulded their source material, with a view to discovering their literary and theological agendas

Aim of redaction-criticism: to discover the evangelists’ agendas, and to learn more about the communities from which they came.
  • Why did they include the traditions they included?
  • Why did they mould their traditions in the ways they did?
  • Why did they add, omit and change what they did?
  • What can we know about them and their communities?
Focus of redaction-criticism: the evangelists and their communities.

Heyday of redaction-criticism: 1950s – present.
The recent increased usage of the term in the media is making me wonder whether it is going to make it more difficult for us to use the term in the classroom. Are our students going to default to thinking that the term is all about the way in which Matthew blacks out bits of Mark? The fact that something like that, crudely, is sometimes in play may make the teaching task here a little more difficult. Indeed, talking about the term on my recent podcast reminded me of the first time I heard the term myself, back when I was sixteen years old and working on my 'A' Level RE (Religious Education). I remember my teacher holding a copy of Norman Perrin's What is Redaction Criticism? and I remember thinking, "Wow that sounds scary -- and fascinating!" and I imagined that it must have something to do with the scholar's elimination of lots of material from the Gospels in order to get to some kind of core.

As I mention in the podcast, I am a fan of redaction criticism, though I think there are some difficulties with it. I published an article on one of those difficulties not long ago, "The Rock on Rocky Ground: Matthew, Mark and Peter as Skandalon" in Philip McCosker (ed.), What Is It That the Scripture Says?: Essays in Biblical Interpretation, Translation, And Reception in Honour of Henry Wansbrough Osb (Library of New Testament Studies; London & New York: Continuum, 2006): 61-73. Since it's an essay in a collection, I should make it public on the web.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

NT Pod 3: What is "Redaction"?

For those who haven't subscribed yet, I have uploaded the latest NT Pod. This episode asks the question "What is 'redaction'?" and I hope to add some additional reflections on the blog later.

Update (one minute later): I just published this post and noticed the Google ads that were being served up nicely confirmed the point with which the pod begins, i.e. that "redaction" means something a bit different in contemporary usage from what it means in New Testament criticism. A company dealing with "Redaction Software" list as their funtion that they "Remove privacy content from any document".

Friday, June 19, 2009

NT Pod 2

The second episode of the NT Pod is now available, this time discussing "Paul the letter speaker". Details over on the NT Pod's site, or subscribe via iTunes or Duke's iTunes U.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Discovering iTunes U and Duke's iTunes U

The birth of the NT Pod has necessitated my finally coming to terms with the world of iTunes, something I have flirted with in the past but had never really embraced, preferring to access podcasts through Google Reader and so on. Well, it seems that one of the amazing developments on iTunes, about which I was only dimly aware, is a special section for higher education authors and users called iTunes U. It's a remarkable phenomenon, a kind of new Open University, where anyone can go and download lectures, podcasts, conference talks and so on. The idea in part is to provide multi-media materials for students on courses, and so some parts of iTunes U will be institution and course specific. But massive swathes of material are available free to all members of the public. It's a revolution in what British universities used to call "extra-mural learning", education beyond the walls of the university.

Many universities and colleges have their own iTunes U sites, including my own, Duke University, which has an impressive iTunes U site with lots of materials of interest. A lot of it consists of audio materials from conferences or public lectures, but some is created specially for the web. Here's the link to Duke's iTunes U site:

Duke on iTunes U

The links on that page will encourage an iTunes application to launch, so you will need to have iTunes installed if you don't have it already.

So what's available in our area over at Duke's iTunes U site? If you look to the left on the main menu, you will see Religion listed as one of the topics. Included under this topic is one thing that I have mentioned previously, the link to Dale Allison's 2008 Kenneth Clark Lectures. See also Carol Meyers on Women in Scripture; Beyond the Da Vinci Code with Bart Ehrman and Richard Hays; and Two Views of the Resurrection with Gary Habermas and Joel Marcus. And now also the NT Pod, with me!

Many thanks to Stephen Toback and Tom Freeland for their help in introducing me to the world of iTunes U and adding the NT Pod to its service.

Monday, June 15, 2009

NT Pod on iTunes

The NT Pod is now available in the iTunes store. So iTunes users can subscribe here:

NT Pod at iTunes

Or just go to iTunes and search for the NT Pod.

The NT Pod will also be on iTunes U in due course, over on Duke's iTunes U section. More on that when I have it, I hope by the end of the week.

Biblioblogs interview with John Anderson

The latest interview over at Biblioblogs.com is with John Anderson of Hesed we ‘emet. It's a full and enjoyable read, especially for Dukies. I particularly liked the line "Everyone on faculty that I talked to said if you wanted to do Bible you went to one of three places: Duke, Emory, or Princeton."

Friday, June 12, 2009

New Podcast: the NT Pod

I have a new podcast on the New Testament and Christian Origins now available and it is called the NT Pod. I am aiming to produce an episode every week or so. My plan is to keep it short and sweet -- just five minutes or so of comment on a topic of interest. The site for the NT Pod is here:

Episode 1 is on Matthew 1.1-17 and you can download it or subscribe to listen to each episode as it becomes available. Within a few days, you should be able to find me on iTunes and iTunes U but for the time being iTunes users can subscribe manually by using the podcast feed.

Thank you for listening and thank you in advance for any feedback. It's still a learning process for me at the moment and I am hoping that the technical side of the podcasts will improve as time goes on.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Gospel of Thomas and Q

Over on her Forbidden Gospels blog, April DeConick mentions a new website with essays on Early Christian Religion by Robert Oerter. One of these essays, on Gospel Truth, which spends some time on the Synoptic Problem, includes an argument for the existence of Q on the grounds of its alleged similarity with the Gospel of Thomas,
[Q] is entirely unlike the canonical gospels in which the sayings of Jesus are interwoven with a continuous narrative. During the 1950s this peculiarity of Q was used as an argument against it. No such sayings gospel was known from the early Christian period, the critics charged. Q proponents needed to postulate not just a single text but an entire unknown genre of Christian literature. Ironically, just a few years earlier an amazing document had been unearthed, a document whose existence would turn this argument on its head . . . .

. . . . Such discoveries are exceedingly rare, and historians must usually be content with rearranging old data in new ways. Short of finding an actual copy of Q, more striking support for the Q document hypothesis can hardly be imagined. From the analysis of gospel interrelationships a hypothetical document had been reconstructed. That document required the existence of a previously unknown literary genre, the sayings gospel. The discovery of the Gospel of Thomas now confirmed that assumption. What had been seen as a weakness of the Q document hypothesis was suddenly transformed into a brilliantly successful prediction.
The argument sounds persuasive because it relies on the notion of "prediciton confirmed", but the premise, that Thomas is like Q, is faulty. I devoted the last chapter of The Case Against Q to setting out the case that the first third of Q has a clear narrative sequence, with a chronological, geographical, cause-and-effect progression, of the kind that is quite foreign to a sayings Gospel like Q. I argued that these differences between Q and Thomas were actually more telling than the similarities in that they pointed to a source-critical rather than a genre-critical solution to the problem. The reason that the first third of Q is rich in narrative and in narrative sequence is that it corresponds to the section of non-Marcan elements in Matthew's reworking of Mark, located in Matt. 3-11. After that point Matthew works closely with the Matthean order, and it is inevitable that double tradition material loses its narrative sequence.

Since many remain unfamiliar with the contents of Q, it is worth reminding ourselves again, in outline, of this narrative sequence. John the Baptist is introduced (Q 3.2) and located in the region around the Jordan (Q 3.3); crowds come to him for baptism (Q 3.7); he speaks to them about repentance (Q 3.7b-8) and he prophesies a “coming one” to whom he is subordinated (Q 3.16-17). Jesus is introduced and the spirit descends on him, and he is called Gods son (Q 3.21-22); the spirit then sends him to the wilderness where he is tested as God's son (Q 4.1-13); he is in Nazara (Q 4.16); he preaches a major Sermon (Q 6.20-49) and after he has finished speaking, he enters Capernaum (Q 7.1), where he heals a Centurion’s Boy (Q 7.1b-10). Messengers from John the Baptist, who is now imprisoned, ask about whether Jesus is indeed the “coming one” (Q 7.18-35), and the ensuing discourse takes for granted that Jesus heals people and preaches good news to the poor, all in fulfilment of the Scriptures, and likewise the teaching presupposes that Jesus associates with tax-collectors and sinners, and that he is criticized for doing so.

I argue that this narrative sequence points to the origins of Q as material source-critically extracted from Luke's non-Marcan, Matthean material. As so often, the devil is in the detail. The popularity of the appeal to Thomas in order to strengthen Q is still present, though, and it arises in part from a misreading of Austin Farrer. In the passage quoted above, Oerter refers only to Farrer (in a footnote) but it is worth looking at what Farrer actually said. His argument was that the strong narrative exordium led the reader to expect a culmination with Passion and Resurrection:
For Q has to be allowed to possess a strongly narrative exordium, not to mention narrative incidents elsewhere interspersed. It is no simple manual of Christ's teaching. It tells us with considerable fullness how John Baptist preached before the public manifestation of Jesus, and how Jesus, appearing in fulfilment of John's prophecies -- and, it would seem, undergoing baptism at his hands -- endured a threefold temptation in the wilderness, after which he ascended a mountain, and was joined by disciples there. Having delivered beatitudes and precepts of life, he "concluded his words" and presently made his way into Capernaum, where his aid was invoked by a centurion on behalf of his servant . . .

. . . . . This pattern of symbolism and narrative finds a natural place in St. Matthew's text, where, in our opinion, it indubitably originated. But what sort of place would it find in the imaginary Q? After an exordium so full of dogmatic weight and historical destiny, is it credible that the book should peter out in miscellaneous oracles, and conclude without any account of those events which, to a Christian faith, are supremely significant? . . . What is hard to believe is that he should supply the exordium, while omitting the conclusion; that he should set in train the only story of unique importance, and break it off. (On Dispensing with Q, 59-60)
There are things that Farrer missed in his discussion, and there are some emphases that might be a little different from ours, but Farrer had seen the problem with the Q document that the Q hypothesis implied, and he had seen it more clearly than many of the advocates of the hypothesis. The Q-Thomas alignment is only persuasive on a kind of simple, basic level; it does not bear closer examination.

Historical Jesus Missing Pieces IV: Placing the Baptsm

David Zelenka, Baptism of Christ, at WikimediaI have been reflecting here for a while about the problem of the Missing Pieces in the Historical Jesus puzzle. One of my concerns is that we might be putting the right pieces in the wrong places, or arranging them into the wrong pose. I wanted to concentrate on the phenomenon in those posts, and to dwell for a little on the dinosaur analogy, but now I would like to try to illustrate what I am talking about in the first of a couple of examples.

Let's take the example of Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist. This is generally regarded as one of the most secure pieces of data we have about the Historical Jesus, and many use it as a key piece in their reconstructions. I am inclined to think that they may be right and that this is a reasonably secure piece of data. Now, for the sake of argument, let's assume that it is indeed a good piece of data, the equivalent of finding a dinosaur fossil, and ask about how we integrate it into the picture as a whole.

Most reconstructions of the Historical Jesus place this event at the beginning of what they call his "public ministry". Here is one example among many:
"Jesus went out into the wilderness to be baptized by John. The fact that we know almost nothing of Jesus' life prior to his baptism by John suggests that John's baptismal ministry inaugurated Jesus' own public work."

Paul J. Achtemeier, Joel B. Green, Marianne Meye Thompson (eds.), Introducing the New Testament: its literature and theology (2nd edition, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 211.
The placing of the baptism at the beginning of Jesus' ministry is, however, just a guess based on its positioning in the Synoptic Gospels. To assume that the baptism takes place at the beginning of Jesus' public life is simply to accept the narrative of Mark's Gospel at face value. The form-critics may have made a few mistakes, but the basis of their work, scepticism about the (accurate, chronological) biographical framework of the Gospels has not been successfully challenged.

There are, after all, obvious narrative and theological factors influencing Mark's placement of the baptism at the beginning of the Gospel. In his construction, John the Baptist is the Elijah figure who prepares the way for the Messiah to whom he is subordinated. In this construction, Mark is hardly going to position the baptism story half-way through his narrative, even if it actually occurred much later in Jesus' life, if, for that matter, Mark had any idea when it happened. The narrative structure is designed to subordinate John to Jesus, to make him the forerunner, who is arrested before Jesus begins public ministry in Galilee (Mark 1.14) , separating the two men both geographically and temporally.

In other words, the quotation above, which is fairly typical of Historical Jesus research, simply presupposes that the baptism is the first major event in Jesus' life that we know about. It is rarely argued that the baptism marked the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. The fact that we haven't heard anything about Jesus' life before Mark 1 does not make Mark 1 chronologically earlier any more than it makes Mark 8 chronologically the mid-point of Jesus actual, historical career.

Indeed a careful reading of the texts suggests that the Marcan construct is just that, a Marcan construct. There are indications that the two men were active at the same time. John 3.22-26 depicts Jesus baptizing alongside John, with the clear acknowledgement that the two men had parallel careers, at least for some time. Other traditions like Mark 2.18 (mentioning the disciples of John) may also witness to overlapping careers. My guess would be that John the Baptist did die before Jesus, as the Gospels suggest, and that it could have caused some reflection by Jesus on his own death, but that is a guess.

So let us imagine this kind of scenario. Jesus is engaged in some kind of public ministry in Galilee for a year or so before he has met John the Baptist. He hears about John and like several others he makes pilgrimage to the Jordan river to see him. Jesus has an epiphany; it's a confirmation that he has been doing the right thing by leaving family and home and preaching and healing. Perhaps things happened like this; perhaps they didn't. My point is not to argue for a different reconstruction but rather to draw attention to our ignorance about where to place the data and how to do our reconstruction.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Michael White on the Synoptic Problem

I recently came across L. Michael White, From Jesus to Christianity, a book I had previously missed. As usual, I couldn't help checking out its discussion of the Synoptic Problem and I was pleasantly surprised to see that White does not adhere to the now rather tired narrative common in American introductory level books that goes something like, "Once there was the Griesbach Hypothesis but Marcan Posteriority was seen to be so implausible that we need the Two-Source Theory, which is believed by everyone." Instead, Griesbach is lined up as an alternative alongside the Farrer theory. And, still better, the Farrer theory gets its own diagram (114) and there is a recommendation of E. P. Sanders and Margaret Davies, Studying the Synoptic Gospels as the best discussion. Well, that's all very encouraging.

But it is not all good news. First, it is called "the Farrar-Goulder Hypothesis" (his name is spelt "Farrer"). Second, there is one of the worst arguments against the theory that I think I have ever read, and that is saying something. White looks at the example of the Rejection at Nazareth in Luke 4.16-30, noting that "Luke would have had to remove the rejection story from Matthew's relatively late position (Matt. 13.53-58) immediately following the parables (Matt. 13.1-52) to a radically early position . . ." (115). The reason that this argument is weak is that Luke is doing exactly the same thing on both the Farrer theory and the Two-Source Theory! According to both, he is using Mark, who has the Rejection of Nazareth at Mark 6.1-6. It is hardly a valid criticism of an opposing theory to bring in an example that works the same way as the theory being advocated.

Moreover, the Farrer theory actually has a major advantage over the Two-Source Theory with respect to Luke's repositioning of the Rejection at Nazareth. One of the most notorious Minor Agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark occurs here, in Luke 4.16, right at the beginning of the pericope in question. Matthew 4.13 and Luke 4.16 both have Jesus in Ναζαρά. It is an agreement against Mark in spelling and order (cf. the parallel spelling at Matt. 2.23 in P70 -- see further Michael Goulder, "Two Significant Minor Agreements (Mat. 4:13 Par.; Mat. 26:67-68 Par.)," Novum Testamentum 45 (2003): 365-373). It is an agreement so notorious that it finds its way into the Critical Edition of Q in order to deal with the problem it poses for the Two-Source Theory. In other words, White's example, far from being problematic for the Farrer Theory, is actually better explained by it.

Now to be fair to White, he is attempting to argue against both Griesbach and Farrer at the same time, but the fact that this is the example chosen suggests that he, like many others, is struggling to conceptualize Marcan Priority without Q. It suggests that those of us who adhere to this theory still have some work to do to help people to see the model clearly. Hey, I should do a website on it! Oh, I've already done that. I should write an introductory book on it! Oh, done that too. What about writing a monograph? Darn it, I've even done that. I suppose I'll have to settle for banging my little Farrer drum here in my corner of the blogworld for a bit longer.

Update (Tuesday, 11.34): It occurred to me this morning that I had missed something really important in the earlier version of this post. I have added the paragraph beginning "Moreover, the Farrer Theory . . ."

Regenerations for Wason and Chaplin

With months still to go before the tenth doctor regenerates into the eleventh next Christmas, Doug Chaplin and Brandon Wason are getting their regenerations in ahead of time. Brandon's new blog is called Sitz im Leben and Doug's is called Clayboy. Both have great designs, and I am looking forward to reading more.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

New Biblioblogs Search

Ask and you shall receive! A week or so, I blogged a reminder of Deinde's Biblioblogs Search and added:
One quick thought: the Deinde search mentions "140+" blogs there indexed, but there are now almost 400 listed on the Biblioblog Top 50 site. Perhaps Danny Zacharias and TAFKANTW could get together and take the search up a few notches to incorporate all that rich variety?
Well, the author of the Biblioblogs Top 50 has been listening and has now added his New Biblioblog Google Custom Search Engine. You can grab it for yourself here:

Many thanks for creating this. I've done a few test searches and it works splendidly.

KGO Radio Interview Slot on Paul

As I mentioned earlier, I appeared on KGO Radio in San Francisco today. I was Brent Walter's guest on God Talk. The topic was the Apostle Paul. I must admit that I found it an enjoyable experience, and I was very impressed with the programme, which has the freedom to go into some detail on topics that interest people like us. Brent Walters is an excellent host. I was on the third hour of the three hour show.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Using Twitter in the Classroom?

Over on Jesus Creed, Scot McKnight asks about Twitter in the Classroom. As some of my readers know, I am a bit of a twitter-holic myself but I have never tried using it in the classroom. Well I suppose on one level, taken literally, the "in the classroom" question is a bit daft because the point of social networking is that it's something done virtually while you are not in the same physical environment. I find live-voice messaging superior when I am in the same physical space as another person. But that's being facetious. Of course the question being asked is whether we extend our engagement with students outside of the classroom by using technology like Twitter.

My kids think that Twitter is the preserve of middle-aged people. The youth all use Facebook. From discussions with my students, this kind of impression has been confirmed for their generation too. I talked a bit to my Historical Jesus class last semester about Twitter and was surprised to find out that very few students in the class even had a twitter account. Our student paper here at Duke, The Chronicle, had a nice piece called Tweet tweet. What's the Rage? this last semester, but discussions with students suggest that Twitter is hardly on their radar while Facebook is their natural hunting ground. When I suggested that one of my advisees talk to another student who shared the same research interests, I said that I would look out her email address and she replied, "Don't worry; I'll just find her on Facebook". The average undergraduate apparently has over 900 friends on Facebook.

This is all a long-winded way of saying that I don't think that undergraduates are embracing Twitter yet to the extent that it can provide a useful venue -- for me -- for supplementing teaching. The time may well come, but I like to work with things that students already have some familiarity with, like Instant Messaging, which I still think provides a great way of communicating outside the classroom.

Cat distractions

It's not always easy writing when you have cats around. But I think I've learned the secret of not getting distracted, as this picture, taken by my daughter Lauren, proves.

Guesting on KGO Radio tomorrow

I will be Brent Walter's guest on God Talk on KGO Radio (San Francisco, California) tomorrow morning talking about the Apostle Paul. The programme starts at 6am PST and I will be interviewed in the 8am time slot (that's 11am EST, 4pm BST). If you are in California, you can listen on 810AM; if you are anywhere else, you can listen live online.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Anti-Defamation League on that Doonesbury Cartoon

Well, no sooner had I commented on Targuman's comments on the recent Doonesbury cartoon than I spotted this interesting piece on the ADL (Anti-Defamation League)'s reaction to the same piece:

ADL: Doonesbury creator 'maligns Judaism' in comic
The Anti-Defamation League is demanding Garry Trudeau, the creator of the popular Doonesbury comic strip, apologize for a feature that the group says "maligns Judaism" and "promotes a Christian heresy."

The strip, which ran in Newsday's Sunday editions, features a character who refers to the God of the Old Testament, before Jesus was born, as "crabby and snarky," and the God of the New Testament, which centers around the life of Jesus Christ, as "about love." . . . .
It has to be said that the ADL's take is on the ball here. Perhaps the publicity gained from there objection to the piece will itself provide a useful teaching moment.

The ADL have a Press release and there is further comment from Rabbi David Saperstein.

Neo-Marcionism alert @ Doonesbury

Over on Targuman Chris Brady has some excellent comments on a Doonesbury cartoon from the weekend, The Gospel according to Doonesbury. The cartoon falls very much into the pattern of Old Testament God is mean and judgemental / Jesus is great and mellow.  It is remarkable just how widespread this kind of neo-Marcionism is in popular culture, and I think it's useful for us geeky academic types to point it out when it occurs.  Perhaps we should get a little "neo-Marcionism alert" logo of our own together and bring it out on occasions like this. 

The Gospels and the Telephone Game (Chinese Whispers)

The anonymous blogger of Missives from Marx has an excellent post on The Gospels and the Telephone Game concerning a teaching practice where students play a version of "the telephone game" in order to demonstrate how oral gospel traditions corrupt over time from their pure originals.  In Britain, the same game is called Chinese Whispers. We often used to play it at primary (AmE: elementary) school when the teacher had decided to have a more relaxed afternoon. But I well remember my first 'O' Level (14-16 years old, now GCSE) RE (Religious Education) class at which our teacher got us playing Chinese Whispers in order to illustrate the phenomenon of the gospel traditions getting corrupted through time. It is not an experiment I have ever repeated in my own teaching, nor will I, largely for the reasons so well articulated by Missives from Marx.

I would add the following. Students actually find the idea of oral transmission of traditions pretty straightforward to grasp. They are familiar with the telling of stories in our culture, jokes, anecdotes, urban legends, and they are often inclined to think intuitively that this sort of thing provides a good analogy to the transmission of early Christian traditions. What students find harder to grasp, in my experience, is the notion that the Gospels are related on a literary level, that there is a lot of copying going on.  They need to be shown the texts and to see that at least two of the evangelists are involved in some pretty serious copying.  Our culture disdains this kind of copying, and avoidance of plagiarism is now a huge issue in universities and colleges.  Students are sometimes shocked when they see the extent of agreement in the Gospels because their guess, before doing any study, is that they are independent witnesses to traditional material.  This is especially the case for churchgoers, for whom the Synoptic Problem is rarely, if ever, taught.  

I noticed this year on my Historical Jesus course a related failure of some students to grasp the idea of "multiple attestation".  In spite of some introduction to the key issues in Gospel criticism, some of the weaker students would still treat the appearance of material in all three Synoptic Gospels as "multiple attestation", imagining a model in which the Synoptics were independently relating traditional materials.

Teaching students about oral tradition is an important and challenging element in the teaching of Christian origins, but I doubt that playing Chinese whispers helps anyone to understand it well, not least given the much larger task of explaining the inter-relations of the Gospels.

Biblioblogging Carnival and Top 50

The May edition of the Biblioblog Top 50 came out at the weekend, with NT Blog maintaining a healthy-ish position at 12, just ahead of the Biblioblog Top 50 itself, which makes an entry into its own chart at 13. It would be a lot of fun if the aggregator itself entered the top 10 next month. Since so much fantastic work goes into the compilation of this chart, I wish its author would emerge from the cloak of anonymity, but I suppose it is a forlorn hope.

Meanwhile, the latest Biblical Studies Carnival is out. It is number 42 and the author is Jim Getz of the Ketuvim blog. Jim does a great job, though it's a bit light on the New Testament this month, but that's probably the fault of people like me who failed to make any nominations.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Deinde's Biblioblogs Search

I was looking for an old post on a blog today and all I could remember was the topic. I couldn't remember the date, the author, the blog, anything. I then remembered Deinde's Biblioblogs Search and found the post I was looking for instantly (it was by Sean Winter, it turned out). I have added a link to the Biblioblogs Search to my Blogs page on the NT Gateway. One quick thought: the Deinde search mentions "140+" blogs there indexed, but there are now almost 400 listed on the Biblioblog Top 50 site. Perhaps Danny Zacharias and TAFKANTW could get together and take the search up a few notches to incorporate all that rich variety?