Monday, November 17, 2014

Yet Another Book Notice

I guess November can be chalked up as a Duke month for my blog, as I have yet another post featuring a book by a Duke University professor. This book is a bit outside of my area of expertise, though still interesting. It is written by Grant Wacker, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Christian History at Duke Divinity School. If I'm not mistaken, he is a premier American religious historian, and I remember when I first got to Duke a few years ago, I talked with him for a while for a job as a research assistant that involved working on a book on Billy Graham. I should mention though that I did not get the job, but given my own area of interest that was completely incongruous with his project, he was still very gracious enough to meet with me and was great fun to talk to. Over four years later, his book seems to have come to completion with America's Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation (according to Amazon, published Nov. 7, 2014). If you're at all interested in modern American religious history, this is a book you want to pick up.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Two Books

In keeping with the theme of Duke Div from my latest post, I want to bring to your attention two books that are out now, both written by my former teachers at Duke.

The first book is written by Richard Hays and if his earlier book Echoes reimagined the way we understood Paul's reading of the OT, then his new book, Reading Backwards may be akin to rethinking about how the four canonical Gospels have appropriated the HB. When I took my OT in NT seminar with him a few years back, he shared with us some portions of that book, and it seems that it has finally come to fruition this November. 

The second book is written by Douglas Campbell, titled Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography and like Hays' book, it's going to be important in how one conceives of Pauline chronology and the relationship between the epistles/Acts, the idea of a 'Pauline corpus,' etc. 

Both Hays and Campbell have a fair share of critics and a large number of supporters, though whatever side you may be on regarding their hermeneutical strategy(s), historical work, etc. etc., you will want to at least take seriously their arguments in these two books. I assume SBL will probably have a sale on them (and if I'm not mistaken there will be a session devoted to Hays' book), so go check them out.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Duke Divinity School & NT Wright

Just this past week, N.T. Wright was at my alma mater, Duke University's Div School and it appears that the school has recorded two videos: first a panel discussion with NT Wright that included three of my teachers at Duke (Profs. Campbell, Eastman, and Hays) and Ross Wagner (who was not at Duke at the time). The second video is titled "Why and How Paul Invented 'Christian Theology,'" a lecture by NT Wright on this issue.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

QOTD: Bultmann

The introduction to Rudolf Bultmann's Jesus and the Word (p. 15) ends with the following sentences:

"The essential difficulty in this book ... lies not in the theoretical understanding nor in the acceptance of it as a 'point of view,' but in the actual encounter with reality which it demands. Now for a great end one must be ready to pay the price, and I would rather frighten a reader away than attract one who wants something for nothing."

Thursday, August 14, 2014

To Be Paul or Not To Be Paul

So I can't seem to get around the circular reasoning used to determine if a text is Paul or Deutero-Pauline. The argument goes something like this (albeit in simplified terms):
Step 1: Identify places (words, passages, etc.) x in text y that does not sound like Paul
Step 2: Since Paul wouldn't not sound like Paul, x gives you a good measure whether y was in fact  written by Paul

Now, what seems missing is Step 1a, which is: Let us decide already what falls under the purview of "Paul," so that we have a collection of terms, thoughts, systems, theology(s), etc., that tells us what constitutes genuine Pauline thought. But if we have already decided that only a certain set of evidence falls under the "Paul" category, isn't this a form of loading the dice?

To take the stylistic issue for example, if one already decided Letters 1-7 are genuine but 8-13 are disputed, and then from 1-7 gather the evidence for some commonality in style (="Pauline"), of course as a self-fulfilling prophecy it is no surprise to find that Letters 8-13 do not sound "Pauline."

To broaden the scope a bit further, there is the question of "consistency" in Pauline thought, which as often is the case, scholars are divided to no end. Some argue inconsistency, some argue consistency, some argue some middle ground, etc. etc. etc. If in fact Paul has written letters spanning 5-10 years from the first to the last, is it so out of the question to think that he could change his mind (or develop) on a particular position? Must his theology remain static from beginning to end?

I suppose all of this is provoked by my reading through Ehrman's historical intro to the NT, and again the method of argumentation sounds strange to me. For example, in his discussion of Ephesians, he notes that it has roughly 100 complete sentences and 9 of them are over 50 words in length. He tells us that Gal/Phil are roughly the same length and we can note some astonishing differences. Phil has 102 sentences and "only one of them is over fifty words" (408); Gal has 181 sentences and only 1 over 50 words (He then notes similar statistics in Rom 1-4; 1 Cor 1-4; etc.) Then in terms of hapax, he notes that Ephesians uses 116 words not found in any of the undisputed letters while in comparison, Philippians at slightly shorter length has the highest number of unique words (among the undisputed) "but the total there is only 76" (408).

What if Gal/Phil had 30 other sentences that had over 40 words in length (NB: I did not count them, so this is just hypothetical), would that be okay? Or, what if they had 5 sentences over 50 words in length? Is that good enough? Or would they have to have at least 7 (and why)? What kind of specific criteria does one use to say "Okay, this one made the cut" when you are using these numbers? 15%? 25%? Or to look at the hapax question, what if Philippians had 86 unique words, does that then allow us to bring Ephesians into the fold or not? Why is 116 (or 76) used as a disqualifying #? Without any discussion of what constitutes statistical significance (Ehrman does not indicate if he has looked into the p-value of these #'s; or can something like that even be established here?), these numbers mean nothing besides one's "feeling" that something is amiss.

Now, I am not arguing here for a 7 letter corpus, 10 letter corpus, or even a 13 letter corpus, but I am concerned primarily with the methods of argumentation used to establish the categories in the first place (I would say this also applies for the opposite end of the spectrum, to assume a priori that all 13 letters are "genuine" Paul without clear argumentation to that end.) Finally, a scholar may argue that it is the cumulative case that allows for these conclusions, but again, I am not so sure that works; if I put together 5 questionable probabilities, does the conglomeration of them increase the overall probability of my original thesis?

QOTD: Käsemann

"No one has ever been compelled (in the true sense) to make his decision between faith and unbelief, simply because someone else has succeeded in representing Jesus convincingly as a worker of miracles." 

- Ernst Käsemann, "The Problem of the Historical Jesus," in Essays on New Testament Themes, 19.

Friday, July 25, 2014

(In)stability of Oral Tradition

I'm currently reading for my comprehensive exams that will take place in the Fall, and that means wading through a ton of books having to do with topics ranging from historical Jesus research, to Pauline theology, to the Synoptic Problem, critical introductions, NTT, history of interpretation, etc. etc. etc. Right now I'm working through a couple different books and one of them is Bart Ehrman's The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (5th ed.) and in chapter 5, he discusses the issue of the Jesus tradition (particularly oral) and writes the following (p. 70):

"No one knows for certain when Jesus died, but scholars agree that it was sometime around 30 C.E. In addition, most historians think that Mark was the first of our Gospels to be written, sometime between the mid-60s to early 70s. Matthew and Luke were probably produced some ten or fifteen years later, perhaps around 80 or 85. John was written perhaps ten years after that, in 90 or 95. These are necessarily rough estimates, but almost all scholars agree within a few years. Perhaps the most striking thing about these dates for the historian is the long interval between Jesus' death and the earliest accounts of his life. Our first written narratives of Jesus (i.e., the Gospels) appear to date from thirty-five to sixty-five years after the fact. This may not seem like a long time, but think about it in modern terms. For the shortest interval (the gap between Jesus and Mark), this would be like having the first written record of Richard Nixon's presidency appear today."

Now, most of this is fairly bland and nothing surprising from a critical standpoint, but what got me scratching my head are the last two sentences of this quotation. Why should I think about this in modern terms? Is the modern sociocultural milieu even remotely close to that of first century Palestine? Was Richard Nixon ever venerated as a miracle worker, exemplary moral figure, much less a divine being (and does that make a difference in how the memory of a person is transmitted?) I take his point that it is not as if some news reporter followed Jesus around and wrote everything down the minute he said them, but to use "modern terms" to highlight the apparent gap between the event and the written narrative seems rather unconvincing. I can't say I have read a whole lot on 'orality' in antiquity, but if my memory serves me right, plenty of scholars have already shown that our current paradigm in which events, memory, knowledge, etc. are passed down and how that occurred in the past are certainly not the same. I don't know if Ehrman is right or wrong entirely on this point, though he could nuance his argument without appealing to 'modern' sensitivities. Yes 5 years in modern terms is certainly a lot; these days not many can even recall with great clarity about events/people from 15 years ago (much less 50 years), but what I am wondering is if that was exactly the same in antiquity.

Monday, July 21, 2014

QOTD: Samuel Sandmel

"It can be set down as something destined to endure eternally that the usual Christian commentators will disparage Judaism and its supposed legalism, and Jewish scholars will reply, usually fruitlessly. I have addressed myself to this topic in three or four essays, and do not intend to pursue this any more beyond this one time, preferring to conclude that with those Christians who persist in deluding themselves about Jewish legalism, no academic communication is possible. The issue is not to bring these interpreters to love Judaism, but only to bring them to a responsible, elementary comprehension of it."

- Samuel Sandmel, The First Christian Century in Judaism and Christianity: Certainties and Uncertainties, 98n10

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Harvard Commencement Speeches: Politics and Comedy

It's that time of the year when commencement speeches are given all over the nation, and two given at Harvard recently came to my attention. One by Michael Bloomberg and the other by Mindy Kaling for Harvard Universty and Harvard Law School respectively.

One quote from each person that sum up their agenda for the day, one a platform for politics and another a platform for humor.
Bloomberg: "Great universities must not become predictably partisan. And a liberal arts education must not be an education in the art of liberalism."

Kaling: "You will help a cable company acquire a telecom company. You will defend BP from birds. You will spend hours arguing that the well water was contaminated before the fracking occurred. One of you will sort out the details of my prenup."

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

One stage finished, new stage begins

Happy to say I've finished the coursework phase of my PhD program and now reading for preliminary exams. Hope you will all enjoy a productive summer!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Interview (Markschies @ Marginalia)

I recently read through Jens Schröter's From Jesus to the New Testament and provided a book review for a seminar here at Emory. It seems to me that German scholarship is once again coming up more and more on the horizon of Anglophone speakers, and Schröter is just one of the many German scholars that I think should be read by American students of NT. 
Another figure who would be considered in this group is Christoph Markschies, professor (and previous president[!]) of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and I have heard some of my teachers here at Emory speak very very highly of him (and that does not happen often). His CV is ridiculous and he works quite broadly it seems like beyond maybe what is traditional "NT studies" (though I don't think this is a knock on his scholarship, more a positive thing).
Anyway, I saw that Marginalia conducted an interview with him and it's really interesting to hear him speak about issues in scholarship.

Check it out here.

EDIT: I suppose I should make it clear that Markschies is not actually a "NT scholar" in the traditional sense, his Dr. theol and Habilitation were earned by working in Gnosticism and Arianism respectively. However, as you can tell from the audio, he proposes a more broader expansion of one's area of research and maybe a softening of the walls between "NT studies" and "Patristics"/"Ancient Christianity". A very learned man but seems to be very friendly and interesting to listen to.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

QOTD: Molly Worthen

As my final semester of coursework is winding down (finally!) this week, I had some more time to resume other random readings that interested me. I've been slowly reading through books on Roosevelt/Taft, the news, economics, and American religious history. The last book on this list is a book by an Americanist at UNC (Worthen) who recently published that book with the title Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism. I'm not that far into the book, but I'll just leave you with a quick quote from her introduction:

"The evolution of the evangelical community—and whether, and why, it might be called anti-intellectual—is best traced through the lives of elites: the preachers, teachers, writers, and institution-builders in the business of creation disseminating ideas. When critics describe evangelicalism as anti-intellectual, usually they are not blaming ordinary laypeople. A casual glance at the latest best-seller list, chock full of celebrity memoirs and puppy novels, or the amateur talent shows and dating competitions that top the television ratings, demonstrates that when it comes to intellectual shallowness evangelicals have no advantage on the rest of America."

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Douglas Campbell (new book + video)

One of my former teachers at Duke Divinity School, Douglas Campbell, is coming out with a new book titled Framing Paul: An Epistolary Account (see here). He's been teaching a course on the life of Paul at Duke for a few years now I think and I remember him describing to us about working on a book about the chronology of Paul's letters, and this seems to be the working out of that project. His Deliverance of God certainly made some waves in Pauline scholarship and I have no doubt that this book will also do the same on discussions about Paul and his letters. He is certainly a provocative thinker and you can love him or hate him but I don't think you can ignore his work. The book should be out late this year, but for now, check out this video:

Friday, March 28, 2014


hope University of Florida loses big to Dayton. That is all.

Saturday, March 15, 2014


I found out that I recently won the following books from a giveaway (with the lofty title, "The Amazing T&T Clark Book Giveaway of 2014") by the folks over at The Jesus Blog (+ T&T Clark):

(1) Maurice Casey, Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? (March 2014)
(2) Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne editors, Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (August 2012)
(3) Helen Bond, The Historical Jesus: A Guide for the Perplexed (May 2012)

This is an area of NT studies that continues to spark interest for me, so I'm very happy to add them to my library collection. Thanks to Chris, Anthony, and T&T Clark for this generous giveaway. If you haven't checked out The Jesus Blog yet, go take a look now here.

Friday, March 14, 2014

New journal issues

The newest issues are out for the two following journals:

The newest volume of JSNT (March 2014) looks to be a very interesting volume, as it is an issue devoted entire to two recently published books on the Gospel of Thomas, one by my teacher at Duke University, Mark Goodacre (Thomas and the Gospels: The Case for Thomas's Familiarity with the Synoptics) and the other by Simon Gathercole of Cambridge (The Composition of the Gospel of Thomas: Original Language and Influences). Here is the TOC:

John S. Kloppenborg, "A New Synoptic Problem: Mark Goodacre and Simon Gathercole on Thomas"

Nicola Denzey Lewis, "A New Gnosticism: Why Simon Gathercole and Mark Goodacre on the Gospel of Thomas Change the Field"

Stephen J. Patterson, "Twice More--Thomas and the Synoptics: A Reply to Simon Gathercole, The Composition of the Gospel of Thomas, and Mark Goodacre, Thomas and the Gospels"

These articles are followed by response papers from both Simon Gathercole and Mark Goodacre. I read through both books this past year, so I'm very much looking forward to reading the responses. In my opinion, Mark is one of the best out there on the Synoptics and as always, his book is very well researched and clearly written, so if you're mildly interested in this subject, go check out his book (quite affordable at that). Gathercole's book was informative as well, though it might set you back some $ if you want to own a copy for yourself.

The newest volume of NTS (April 2014) includes a wide variety of articles, likely to contain something for everyone. Here is the TOC:

Christopher M. Tuckett, "What is 'New Testament Study'? The New Testament and Early Christianity"

Paul Trebilco, "Creativity at the Boundary: Features of the Linguistic and Conceptual Construction of Outsiders in the Pauline Corpus"

Brice C. Jones, "A Coptic Fragment of the Gospel of John with Hermeneiai (P.CtYBR inv. 4641)

Brendan Byrne, SJ, "Jerusalems Above and Below: A Critique of J. L. Martyn's Interpretation of the Hagar-Sarah Allegory in Gal 4.21-5.1"

Dorothea H. Bertschmann, "The Good, the Bad and the State - Rom 13.1-7 and the Dynamics of Love"

James B. Prothro, "Who is 'of Christ'? A Grammatical and Theological Reconsideration of 1 Cor 1.12"

David I. Starling, "'We do Not Want You to Be Unaware ...': Disclosure, Concealment and Suffering in 2 Cor 1-7"

Sheree Lear, "Revelation 19.16's Inscribed Thigh: An Allusion to Gen 49.10b"

Go check them out.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

QOTD: Barth

According to Karl Barth...

In case you can't figure out who they are, I'll let the man speak for himself:

"To a great extent, Bultmann has only himself to blame if he gives the impression of being concerned mainly to do battle for a more modern world view against the ancient or mythological view, particularly against its survival in the Church, its theology, and preaching. He looks like a rationalist with the austere Marburg passion for sincerity! A new David Friedrich Strauss! ... Away with superstition! We are children of the enlightenment. We use electric light and the radio. How can we believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles? These things simply aren't compatible! -- such is the somewhat chilly note which Bultmann often strikes." (Kerygma and Myth vol. 2, 117)

Monday, March 10, 2014

QOTD: Socrates (from Xenophon)

For one of my seminars, I've been reading a lot of Xenophon and Plato, and I just ran across a quote in Xenophon's Memorabilia that I thought I would share with you. The recent debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham continues the long dispute over young earth, old earth, ID, evolution, etc. etc. etc. I suppose this is nothing new, as Xenophon demonstrates in a discussion between Socrates Aristodemus:

[Socrates]: "Do you not think then that the original creator of mankind had some useful end in view when he endowed us with our several senses, giving eyes to see visible objects and ears to hear sounds? Would odors again be of any use to us had we not been endowed with nostrils? What perception should we have of sweet and bitter and all things pleasant to the palate had we no tongue in our mouth to discriminate between them? Besides these, are there not other contrivances that look like the results of forethought? ... With such signs of forethought in these arrangements, can you doubt whether they are the works of chance or design?" (Xenophon, Mem. 1.4.5-6)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Sad news

I was saddened to hear that Professor Allen Verhey of Duke Divinity School passed away today (see the schools news here). He was the Robert Earl Cushman Professor of Christian Theology at Duke and his field of expertise was in Christian ethics (he was the recent president of The Society of Christian Ethics). I took a seminar on Christian Ethics & Scripture with him which was co-taught by Stephen Chapman, and while I did not know him well, he seemed to me to be a very careful thinker and a teacher who demonstrated genuine concern for the students at Duke Div. I'm sure his presence will be sorely missed.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Talk @ Emory

Prof. Shaun Casey who is heading up the State Department's new Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives gave a talk here at Emory just over a week ago. Check it out:


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

QOTD: Bernhard Weiss

In my history of interpretation seminar, we just reviewed some material on historical Jesus research, and I saw this quote from Bernhard Weiss (1827-1918). This comes from chapter 12 ("The Historical Representation of the Life of Jesus") of his 2-volume (or 3, in English) The Life of Christ, first published in 1882. Notice his confidence and rhetoric, probably very typical of 19th century German scholarship:

"The difficulty is not that entire freedom from presupposition is necessary for a scientific portraiture of the history of Jesus, and that it is impossible without presuppositions to proceed with the history of Jesus. Even by Strauss that requirement has long been recognized as equally warranted and unattainable. The nature of the case yields presumptions from which historical criticism neither can nor dare free itself ... To demand that this history be treated only according to the rules observed in the examination of the history of other religions, is unjustifiable because unpracticable. According as the Christian religion is regarded as one religion among many, or as the true, the perfect one; according as one has found in it full satisfaction for his religious needs, or takes up towards it a skeptical or antagonistic attitude, must another standard necessarily be applied to the history of its origin. It is impossible for the Christian to recede from the assumption that the history through which the completion of true religion in humanity is introduced, is in its nature plainly unique ... The Gentile and Jew, or he who has broken with the Christian religion, could as little write a history of Jesus, which in its deepest essence shall be a just one, as a blind man could write a history of painting, or a deaf man a history of music. A scientific standpoint which should occupy a place above both these contradictions is an empty illusion."

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Mystery Solved!

I was interested to see that the most recent issue of Clinical Toxicology had an article devoted entirely to the death of the figure depicted above, Alexander the Great, in 323 BCE. I don't think this is a journal that most ancient historians would run to to find any discussions about figures from antiquity, but I found it interesting nonetheless. The authors of the article present their own answer to the mystery of how this great Macedonian conqueror died.

Here is the abstract:

To investigate the death of Alexander the Great to determine if he died from natural causes or was poisoned and, if the latter, what was the most likely poison. Methods. OVID MEDLINE (January 1950–May 2013) and ISI Web of Science (1900–May 2013) databases were searched and bibliographies of identified articles were screened for additional relevant studies. These searches identified 53 relevant citations. Classical literature associated with Alexander's death. There are two divergent accounts of Alexander's death. The first has its origins in the Royal Diary, allegedly kept in Alexander's court. The second account survives in various versions of the Alexander Romance. Nature of the terminal illness. The Royal Diary describes a gradual onset of fever, with a progressive inability to walk, leading to Alexander's death, without offering a cause of his demise. In contrast, the Romance implies that members of Alexander's inner circle conspired to poison him. The various medical hypotheses include cumulative debilitation from his previous wounds, the complications of alcohol imbibing (resulting in alcohol hepatitis, acute pancreatitis, or perforated peptic ulcer), grief, a congenital abnormality, and an unhealthy environment in Babylon possibly exacerbated by malaria, typhoid fever, or some other parasitic or viral illness. Was it poisoning? Of all the chemical and botanical poisons reviewed, we believe the alkaloids present in the various Veratrum species, notably Veratrum album, were capable of killing Alexander with comparable symptoms to those Alexander reportedly experienced over the 12 days of his illness. Veratrum poisoning is heralded by the sudden onset of epigastric and substernal pain, which may also be accompanied by nausea and vomiting, followed by bradycardia and hypotension with severe muscular weakness. Alexander suffered similar features for the duration of his illness. Conclusion. If Alexander the Great was poisoned, Veratrum album offers a more plausible cause than arsenic, strychnine, and other botanical poisons.

Go check it out here.