Sunday, December 31, 2006

Almost 2007

While I’ll be back to blogging as usual in the New Year (and finishing the series on Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses), just a quick post to point to Dan’s superb Six Propositions on What Makes Good (Christian) Theology. I certainly gelled better with his suggestions than those to which he responded.

I thought about writing a best/worst post/series, best new blog etc., but I’m not sure I can be bothered, and I’d only be linking to myself all the time - unless we are talking about the worst post of the year, of course.

Running this blog is a tremendous amount of fun, as is the correspondence that sometimes takes place behind the scenes. And it has been fascinating to see how extraordinarily fast the readership of Chrisendom has grown in the last year (here is a graphic of the visitor, not page load, statistics produced by my web server - if you find that sort of thing interesting). Gladly, some publishing houses have noticed and I shall be making book reviews of NT works something more of a feature in 2007. In fact, I have already received some, and will receive more superb and important works to review on Chrisendom for next year, and hopefully I’ll manage to work in a few interviews with some authors, too. All rather exciting really!

If anyone has anything they would like to see discussed or improved on Chrisendom for 2007, then leave a comment. But be very sensitive and complimentary, or I’ll cry. (If you don’t like my blog at all, please go here)

Happy New Year to you all, and don’t forget the ‘Lords Per Minute’ competition.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Lords per minute competition

OK, so I won the Father Christmas competition rather convincingly, if you don’t count one reader’s son who sounds like a mini-‘patron god of the Philistines’ in the making.

For the New Year I have another little competition for you.

Many of us theological types often get involved in various prayer meetings over some part of the New Year celebrations, so this game is to calculate who prays at the highest ‘lords per minute’ (l.p.m) level in any of the prayer meetings we attend. The idea is that you count the number of ‘Lords’ said in a typical 15-second clip, and then multiply by four to get a rough idea.

The rules are simple.

  1. It can be anyone you pray with or even hear, but they must be in the same meeting as yourself.
  2. You can attempt to record a high ‘Lord per minute’ yourself if you want, but experience tells charismatics tend to clock higher speeds than any theologian, even if they be on steroids or fizzy sticks.
  3. An interpretation of tongues, yours or another’s that involves the claim: ‘Wow, that was clocking record speeds in the tongues of angels’, doesn’t count.
The tips are equally simple.

  1. Very important is that you try to get along to a really charismatic meeting. I mean really. In other words, if you want a chance of winning, then you need to get along to a foaming mouthed, chandelier swinging, microphone blowing, anointed-jacket swatting, Holy Spirit waving, everybody-laying-hands-on-everybody, ‘I had a picture’ meeting, or you’re lost. I’m telling you, some of these precious brothers and sisters can clock extraordinary high ‘lords per minute’: ‘Lord, we pray, Lord, that, Lord, you’ll save, Lord, the lost, Lord’ etc. Mix that with earnest fervency and you have a potent, unbeatable cocktail (legend has it that in some cases over 60 l.p.m has been clocked).
  2. Depending on your denomination and role, try steering the prayer meeting with mention of devils, popes, territorial spirits, homosexuals, the lost, whatever gets the most likely high clockers worked up, then grab a calculator.

Being a little charismatically inclined myself, I intend to win this one too (but either way, I will announce the winner in the New Year)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A thought about the last two thoughts

One book that is provoking me to worship like few before is Moltmann’s, The Trinity and the Kingdom – whenever the holy Trinity is the subject of meditation and thought I usually find delighted worship a natural response.

Returning to the theme of atheism, and in the context of a discussion about the Trinity, Moltmann argues:
‘If there were no God, the world as it is would be all right. It is only the desire, the passion, the thirst for God which turns suffering into conscious pain and turns the consciousness of pain into a protest against suffering’ (p. 48, italics suppressed).
I like the proposal and I think there is truth here to play with, but I’m actually not so sure the argument as formulated here is entirely watertight.

Not Really a Thought of the Day

Rather unlike the previous, the following snippet of ‘wisdom’ comes from a certain Rev Gerald Ambulance (cf. his Ministry Manual here). This creative minister has been known, for the purpose of enticing people back to church, to spike the church incense with questionable, and in some countries illegal, substances.


He was once asked the old chestnut: ‘I’m confused about the Trinity. How can God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit all be God, if there’s only one God?’. He memorably answered:
‘Look at it like this: once upon a time there were three little bunnies called Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail. One day a nasty man caught them and put them in a rabbit pie. They were still three rabbits, but only one pie’
That one smeared a guilty smile across my face.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Thought of the day

Back to blogging today, so I wish all of my readers a belated Happy Christmas!

Rather off topic, but I've been thinking quite a bit about atheism recently; here is a thought I just gleaned from Pannenberg:
‘So long as faith in God the Creator holds firm, the question of theodicy can be no real threat to it because this faith also carries with it the conviction that God and his counsels are above all creaturely understanding. Only when we deal with the existence of the Creator as a debatable postulate that we have to support by argument does the problem of theodicy carry a weight that can easily tip the scales in favor of atheism’
Pannenberg, Systematic theology, vol. 3, p. 634 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Father Christmas Competition

Often, us theological types are allowed to speak to children’s groups over the Christmas season, and so I wanted to start a competition. Namely, how many children can you persuade over the next couple of days that Father Christmas doesn’t exist.

The rules:

  1. Only those who you manage to convince before Christmas Eve count.
  2. One point per child
  3. Two points per child if you are able to convince them that Father Christmas is really Beelzebub.
  4. If you manage to reduce one to tears, then double your score. I.e. if you have three points already, add one for this victory (=4), then double it making eight.
  5. If you also manage to succeed in getting them to believe the ‘I’m even going to be eating Rudolf the Red-Nose Pie on Christmas day while you’re eating Turkey’ line, add a bonus point.

I’m hoping to top my personal best over the next couple of days but I doubt I’ll manage, as a couple of years ago I had a ‘double your score’ run of three kids in a row, totalling to over 40 points. That was magic.


  • If you are fat enough, put your name down to act as a shopping mall Santa Claus – and they do tend to trust Reverends.
  • Persuade the Sunday school teacher to allow you ‘bible study’ time with the toddlers.
  • If you are going for the two-points bonus (see 3 above), don’t bother with the old: ‘See what happens if you rearrange the letters of the name “Santa”’, logic, as it tends to get lost on those of typical target age.
  • If you get a job as a shopping mall Santa, when little Johnny is bobbing on your knee, wait till mum has turned her back and pull down your beard, tell him your real name and job, and then expand on the hoax that ‘only babies believe’. If mum turns back overhearing a protest, deny everything. If mum is not around for a few minutes, go for the double your score (4 above - the best way to increase your points). Experience tells that this is facilitated when one tries to mix in the Red-Nose Pie bonus at the same time.

Thus far:

Chris Tilling has accumulated 5 points.

(I’ll add your scores to a league as the results come in)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bauckham responds III

My thanks to Richard Bauckham who has once again taken the time to dialogue with some of the comments, this time those made to part 8 of my summary series on his work, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (I’m getting rather adept at typing the word ‘eyewitnesses’ quickly these days!). He writes:
“I’m grateful to Richard Fellows for his interesting suggestions, and for directing me to his on-line discussions, which I didn’t know. I haven’t thought much about changes of name, and the topic clearly deserves more attention. I wonder if Richard knows my article on ‘Paul and other Jews with Latin names in the NT’ which has some other ideas about names in it.

To James: My point about the names is not just that they are authentically Palestinian ones, which certainly anyone who had lived in Palestine could have known. It is that, when all the data in the 4 Gospels and Acts is put together, the relative frequency of the various names corresponds closely to what we can calculate from other sources (Josephus, inscriptions, Judean desert scrolls etc). No one could have achieved this by design

Happy Christmas”
I would simply add that the article Bauckham mentions, ‘Paul and other Jews with Latin names in the New Testament’, was published in Paul, Luke and the Graeco-Roman world (London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), on pages 202-220 to be precise.

I want to also point to C.K. Barrett’s review of this interesting volume in the Journal of Theological Studies, 2005 56(1) pp. 168-170. He had this to say of Bauckham’s contribution in the above mentioned article: ‘Richard Bauckham makes an exhaustive study of Paul and other Jews with Latin names. This contains much interesting information, spiced with a measure of speculation’ (p. 169).

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Reconciliation – Vertical and Horizontal Dimensions

A Guest Post by Volker Rabens

Below in the link you’ll find my short article that reviews a fascinating conference on reconciliation held last August in Prague. Chris and I thought that for those of you who have not been able to attend this biennial conference of the Fellowship of European Evangelical Theologians it would be a good idea to make this review available online. In the article you’ll find among other things a summary of high-quality papers like these:

  • “Reconciliation in the New Testament: Its Centrality and Relevance”, Prof. I. Howard Marshall (University of Aberdeen, Scotland)
  • “Human Reconciliation in the New Testament with Special Reference to Philemon, Colossians and Ephesians”, Prof. Max Turner (London School of Theology, England)
  • “Reconciliation and Inter-Church Dialogue in Post-Marxist Societies”, Prof. Johannes Reimer (Unisa, South Africa; GBFE, Germany)

Interested (and able to read some German)? Then click HERE.

Interested – but not able to read German? Then perhaps you want to read on a bit (or even have a look at the FEET homepage:

What is FEET? “The Fellowship of European Evangelical Theologians was established almost thirty years ago as the result of an initiative by John Stott. At that time scholarship that combined the highest academic standards with a commitment to the authority of Scripture and to an orthodox, biblical theology was comparatively rare in Continental Europe. Stott saw the need to encourage evangelical biblical scholars and theologians in Europe by providing the kind of network that already existed in the United Kingdom through the Tyndale Fellowship and in North America through the Evangelical Theological Society and the Institute for Biblical Research. [For those of you who have followed Chris’ blog on the ETS, you may be relieved to hear that the FEET does not prescribe the Chicago Declaration. I got the impression at the conference that FEET members are concerned with a “positive”, integrative theology.] Since then an international conference has been held every two years on some specific theological theme.”

The conference in August dealt with both vertical and horizontal aspects of reconciliation. Here are some of the questions that were raised with regard to horizontal reconciliation: “How can the narrow gate of salvation and the wish for a European or global good be integrated? What about the burning questions of what it is to be European and Christian in the West, Centre and East of that Continent, and how are old wounds to be remembered but not glorified? How can we balance even our own personal priorities, how reconcile the parts of ourselves that pull us in different directions?” These and other questions were the focus of a number of papers and lively discussions at the conference.

Well, by now even those of you who don’t read a word of German may want to have a look at the article linked to above, because…it has pictures :-)

Not Short on Humour

I mentioned a few days ago Stephen Tomkins’ little book, A Short History of Christianity. It really is a great read, almost unputdownable. For those who are looking for a quick and readable overview of 2,000 years of church history, you could do a lot worse. Besides, Tomkins is one of the funniest Christian writers alive, which sometimes helps to get through the depressing bits such as the Crusades. For example, when describing the pathetic horrors of the third crusade and the bid of the coalition between Frederick Barbarossa, King Philip and Richard the Lionheart to reach Jerusalem in yet another bloody slaughter he writes:
‘They finally came upon a great river, and Frederick Barbarossa dived in a drowned. His son preserved the royal corpse in a large barrel of vinegar and took him on to fulfil his vow of reaching Jerusalem. The army, unhappy at being led into battle by a pickle, largely went home’!
For more of Tomkins comical genius, I highly recommend his Loose Canons column for the Ship of Fools webpage, here. For example, when writing under the heading ‘Boniface: interfaith dialogue wasn't his thing’, he explains: ‘In Germany, Boniface came across a tribe called the Catti, who worshipped an enormous tree in the forest of Geismar, Thor's Oak. He tried to tell them about the cross of Jesus being a much better tree, but they just kept going on about how good their tree was. So he hacked it down’! His description of certain events in the life of the snooping St Aelhaiarn is one of my favourites: ‘Idle curiosity not being commendable, the Lord rustled up a pack of wild beasts, who tore the hapless lackey limb from limb, and bit of limb from bit of limb’. His story can be found here. Also, though not for Fundies nor the easily offended, is his highly irreverent little book, My Ministry Manual by Rev.Gerald Ambulance. Funny as hell, but may also take you there if you laugh too hard.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Danke Eerdmans

Many thanks to the kind folk at Eerdmans for a review copy of Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, which gladly arrived in the post today!

*Jumps up and down with glee and does a little break dance*

By the way, Bauckham’s book is evidently selling like wildfire and is the Eerdmans December featured book of the month, as can be seen here.

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - Part 8

Click here for the series outline.

Chapter 4. Palestinian Jewish Names

A new resource for study of the Gospels

In this key chapter Bauckham takes a small ‘time out’ from the main thrust of his argumentation in order to pursue an investigation of Palestinian Jewish names in the first century. He does this to inform his approach in the following chapters.

Bauckham’s foundational claim is that, in light of the work of Israeli scholar, Tal Ilan, and her Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity: Part I: Palestine 330 BCE - 200 CE (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2002) names are now a valuable resource for historical study. Indeed, Ilan has collected the names ‘of as many as three thousand Palestinian Jews who lived during the five centuries’ she covers.

However, Bauckham does not uncritically appropriate Ilan’s work, and he differs in his understanding of certain criteria, which Ilan used to generate the statistical calculations. Bauckham’s purpose is primarily to gauge the popularity of each name and so where ‘Ilan counts persons’, Bauckham counts ‘occurrences of a name’. Thus his statistical analysis produces different results in such a way that indicates that a considerably smaller number of names were actually used.

The relative popularity of names

Based upon his foundational claim that the study of Palestinian Jewish names in the first century is of importance, Bauckham proceeds to assert the significance of the fact that ‘there were a small number of very popular names and a large number of rare ones’. Comparing the results of the broader statistical analysis with the names found in the NT, Bauckham can maintain, despite some anomalies, that the statistical results offered concerning the relative popularity of various male and female names is very plausible.

A comparative study of the names of Palestinian Jews in general and those found in the Gospels and Acts leads to an important observation:
[T]he names of Palestinian Jews in the Gospels and Acts coincide very closely with the names of the general population of Jewish Palestine in this period, but not to the names of Jews in the diaspora. In this light it becomes very unlikely that those in the Gospels are late accretions to the traditions
Why were some names so popular?

The fact that ‘six of the nine most popular male names are those of the Hasmonean family’ indicates that the popularity of certain names is understandable as patriotism in light of Roman rule. Other names were popular because they included, or in some way implied, the divine name. Indeed, many of the names seem to reflect a strong hope for Israel’s restoration and for deliverance from pagan oppressors. While Bauckham does not deny that names do not have to be popular for any specific reason but remain popular simply because they are popular and would, for the sake of family tradition, be repeated from one generation to another, he still suggests that ‘these are secondary factors that do not nullify the rather clear general reasons for the really rather extraordinary popularity of a rather small number of names’. Furthermore, in light of the above reasons Bauckham offers for the popularity of certain names, it may come as a surprise that the most famous Biblical names (Moses, David, Elijah) were not used hardly at all. Bauckham reasons (and the book is filled with fascinating and creative snippets such as this):
It may have been thought that to use these names for one's own children would be a presumptuous expectation that these children were actually the expected eschatological deliverers. So the non-use of these names is itself a kind of negative form of evidence for the messianic hopes of the period.
How to tell Simon from Simon

While some of the above may be interesting, it is not as central to Bauckham’s developing argument as what follows. Given that ‘about half the population of Jewish Palestine were called by only about a dozen personal names’, this means that a single name was not sufficient to distinguish one (e.g.) Simon [the most popular male name] from the next Simon. So how did these Jews go about distinguishing people with the same name from each other? Bauckham observes eleven strategies including the use of variant names, the addition or substitution of the patronymic, or husband’s or son’s name, or the use of a nickname, or place of origin, occupation etc. (cf., e.g. Mark 15:40; Luke 24:10; Acts 9:43; 10:7; 21:38).

While this chapter lays some important groundwork for the following chapters, there are some immediate implications. The names found in the Gospels ‘could not possibly have resulted from the accretion of names outside Jewish Palestine, since the pattern of Jewish name usage in the diaspora was very different’. Indeed, given that the gospels evidence typical strategies for distinguishing one person from another with the same name, it would be difficult to explain this data ‘as the result of random invention of names within Palestinian Jewish Christianity, and impossible to explain as the result of such invention outside Jewish Palestine’. Therefore, the authenticity of the names in the Gospel traditions is affirmed, which thus also ‘underlines the plausibility of the suggestion made in chapter 3 as to the significance of many of these names: that they indicate the eyewitness sources of the individual stories in which they occur’.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Küng and Hengel

What a busy last few days! However, a delightful gift came in the post a couple of days ago from none other than the great theologian, Hans Küng! One of the items in the package was a signed copy of the Lew Kopelew Prize ‘order of ceremony’, including speeches (mentioned here). What a lovely surprise!

As I read the speech it became clear that the translation we offered a few days ago on this blog was faulty. Rather than stating that Americans have been misguided ‘by a President arrogantly presenting himself as a Christian’, the German actually says: ‘daß sie von einem arroganten, sich “christlich” präsentierenden Präsidenten ...’ which is, if anything, an even stronger formulation!

Yesterday I was pleased to take part in the 80th birthday celebrations of the great NT scholar, Martin Hengel, in the Tübingen Theologicum. I made a couple of short videos (but as shall become abundantly clear – I will upload them later –, I’m really not film director material!) and managed to get a picture of the back of David deSilva’s head (I’m not paparazzi material either)! The wonderfully friendly, and massively learned, William Horbury gave the honorary lecture in pretty convincing German. Given that I deal with and take issue with Horbury’s thesis concerning early Christology in my doctoral work, it was a delight to hear direct from the ‘horses mouth’, even if I’m still profoundly unconvinced. I’ll blog more about the celebrations later.

By the way, for those who have e-mailed me in the last few days, thank you. I will reply as soon as possible.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Bauckham responds II

Prof Richard Bauckham has been reading your comments in my series on his Jesus and the Eyewitnesses again, and he has this to say in response to a strand of criticism that has surfaced a number of times from a certain Mr Carr (cf. e.g. the comments in part 7):

“Stephen Carr makes the same point over and over. He accuses me of making mere assertions without proof. He does not understand the nature of my arguments. I am offering historical hypotheses to account for the data. This is a normal part of historical method. Historians do it all the time. We have certain data (in this case some aspects of the text of the Gospels) and we must try to find a hypothesis that adequately explains them (as well as being consistent with all our other relevant historical knowledge). So, for example, why is that, whereas most recipients of Jesus’ healings are unnamed in the Gospels, a few are named. I offer a hypothesis that explains this. I know of no other hypothesis that does. Or why do the names of the women vary at different points in a Gospel or between the Gospels? I offer a hypothesis that explains this.

To ‘prove’ such a hypothesis is a judgment of probability based on how adequately a hypothesis accounts for the data. The way to engage critically with this form of historical argument is (a) negatively, to show that the hypothesis does not account adequately for the data or that it is inconsistent with other known data, (b) positively, to offer another hypothesis that accounts better for the data (or, at least, equally well).

This is the kind of discussion - often at a very sophisticated, nuanced and detailed level - that goes on all the time in NT scholarship, as well as in other fields. NT scholarship differs only in that in many cases the discussion is more intensive and extensive, so that in fact all the possibilities are weighed more rigorously than in some other fields of ancient history where far fewer scholars are at work”.
Cf. Bauckham’s first response here.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Prosperity Praise

I particularly liked the gold 'Paul and Silas prison chains'!

Death Haiku

‘[T]he historical passion of Christ reveals the eternal passion of God ... the self-sacrifice of love is God’s eternal nature’

Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom, p. 32

I am absolutely loving this book; I cannot express how much pleasure it is giving me. I’ll stop now before I burst into poetry - and anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that that is not a good idea. This is certainly my favourite Moltmann volume thus far.

Too late, I feel a Haiku bursting out:

“Shouts: Mind the Bus,
Answers: ‘What Bus?’
... Splat”
Undeniable genius. I’m calling this genre of poetry ‘death Haiku’, to read when listening to your favourite ‘death Christian Rock/hymns’ etc.



One reader has pointed out to me that Moses stipulates that a Haiku must mention an aspect of nature.


So, I’ve written a new ‘death Haiku’, which I’m calling ‘John takes a walk near Dover’ (the first one above I’ve decided to call ‘Ron left his glasses at home’):

“John and the cliff edge. Trips.

With talent like this it is sometimes difficult to remain humble.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Once again Bronstein

Once again Bronstein: Here is a fabulous video (via Chessbase) by GM Yasser Seirawan about Bronstein made shortly before he died. Yasser is uninhibited in his praise of the man, undeniably one of the world’s greatest players of the middle of the 20th century.

Three books

I wanted to share a few spontaneous and simple thoughts on three books that I recently put back on the shelf. While the level of the first two are what could be called ‘popular’, the third is in a league of its own - and in more ways than one.

The first is Peter deRosa’s The fatal flaw of Christianity with the snappy subtitle: He did not rise from the dead and the dogma of Original Sin is pure invention. I know that not everybody likes doing this, but every now and then I get the strong urge to read something that wants to tell me that all I believe and affirm is utter bollocks. Besides, I think it is wisdom to give very different opinions at least a hearing. However, while some of the arguments were insightful, this passionately written book continually sets up a ‘straw man’ Christianity (as many militant Atheists and Fundamentalist Christians do), betrays an appalling lack of balance in the treatment of the evidence, and gets numerous factual issues muddled that first year theological students could correct. Though I’m tempted to write: ‘A useful resource if you’ve run out of loo roll’, as it wasn’t all bad I’ll simply limit myself to: ‘Not the best’.

Much better was Marcus Borg’s, The Heart of Christianity in which the author presents his case for an emerging Christianity over against the traditionalist/fundamentalist vision. I have very mixed feelings about this one. One the one hand, there was much in this easy to read book that helped and inspired me. His ability to perceive truth in the Christian story at various levels beyond the literal-factual was a pleasure to follow, and his gentle and gracious tone throughout encouraged my engagement. He covers a lot of ground but I honestly didn’t ever feel like it was rushed. Always informative and insightful, he focuses upon such issues as love for justice and spirituality, pluralism, panentheism, and the historical Jesus.

Nevertheless, and on the other hand, despite the undoubted strengths of this little volume, I felt it was let down at a few crucial points. While it was all part of Borg’s deliberate argument, I was very uneasy with the relegation of Jesus to what I saw as a ‘nice spiritual metaphor’ for westerners, and was left wondering: if this is how wishy-washy we should be, then why bother. His Jesus simply doesn’t inspire me to radical faith. Arguably his commitment to the distinction between the two ways of Christianity (between the ‘emerging’ and traditional) detailed in his first chapter, has led him to over press the division such that either one is all in one model, or all in the other. Besides, I’m pretty sure many ‘emerging Christians’ I know would argue this use of ‘emerging’ language is a dubious piece of PR. I personally prefer to take some things from his own particular spin on the emerging model, and leave the rest. I don’t think that all in traditional Christianity is as desperately in need of the particular radical overhaul he proposes. Among other things, it leaves any serious kind of need or motivation for cross-cultural mission hanging in thin air. And that, for me, just isn’t acceptable. In this respect, when any book refers favourably to Paul Knitter’s No Other Name? in the footnotes, as this one does, then it quickly receives a large dose of my immediate suspicion. I think my feelings about this book are clear: I found it a real mixed bag.

The third book is the exceptional Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, by Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat. I’ll probably post on this book in more depth another time, but I will simply record now that this is one of the most challenging, inspiring and enlightening books I’ve read in a very long time. It is essentially an exercise in a particular hermeneutical reading of Colossians, one informed by a study of post-modern culture (which admittedly not all will like). The results they suggest are worthy of serious consideration, and I hope this book does provoke healthy debate, even if, in the process, some of the details of their hermeneutical approach and moral vision are Tim LaHayed (left behind). You’ll certainly never read Colossians the same way again! Click here for the table of contents and sample text (the preface and first chapter).


Sunday, December 10, 2006

To Bronstein's memory

Hardly a theologically or biblically related post, but some readers may be interested.

Sadly, a few days ago, David Bronstein, the great chess Grandmaster died. Born in Ukraine, 1924, he dazzled the world with spectacularly creative chess. I remember playing through some of his games for the first time and decided to give up trying to understand the mathematics of the combinations, and instead let myself simply enjoy the aesthetics and colossal imagination they demonstrated! The ICC had this to say about him:
‘Bronstein was a truly original thinker, creative genius and master of tactics who believed the game to be more art than science or calculation – for him, the aesthetics was always more important than the result’
One of the most enjoyable chess books I have ever read is the second part of Kasparov’s My Great Predecessors series (my copy is signed by the great man himself!). Kasparov summed up Bronstein’s unmistakable style with the words: ‘For the sake of brilliance it is worth taking a risk!’ (191).

In honour of this great chess artist I have uploaded two of his notable victories.

Click here for his 1946 game (as Black) against Zita. You will be taken to a java board to follow the moves on a chessboard.

The second is a simply breathtaking game to which I have added a few notes – no detailed analysis, just a spattering of thoughts along with a few of Kasparov’s comments from his above mentioned book. Click here for this beautiful victory over the great Keres.

Bronstein, may you rest in peace.

By the way, if anyone is interested in starting chess as a hobby, here is some essential information for you. Essential.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Hans Küng receives the Lew Kopelew Prize!

I’m happy to inform the biblioblogging community that Tübingen based Theologian, Hans Küng, received the Lew Kopelew Prize for Peace and Human Rights last Sunday, for his ‘unermüdlichen Einsatz um ein besseres Verständnis zwischen den grossen Religionen der Welt’. It was a real joy to watch the whole presentation on TV. As to his speech, I was both surprised and pleased how bold and forthright he was in his criticisms of the Bush administration. For example, in the context of peace among the world religions, he courageously claimed that he:
‘considers it a positive development, at least since the loss of the congress elections in Nov 2006, and the long over due outing of the incompetent and warmongering defence minister, that most of the American citizens are slowly coming to realise – one has to say this clearly – that they have been misguided, yes misguided, by a President arrogantly presenting himself as a Christian, by a neo-conservative ideologist, and by a passive congress as well as willing mass media’ (translation ours).
Earlier he spoke that (our translation shortens the original German considerably):
‘Instead of effectively fighting a criminal network, this president thought he had to announce a war, marching into Afghanistan and, despite his father’s wisdom, into Baghdad, thereby turning his father’s idea of “the new world order” into a “new world disorder”!
Küng has never been one to duck a fight, at least one in the service of peace and human rights!

By the way, I hope the person from New Jersey, United States, found what he or she was looking for when their Google search for ‘The Biblical Significance of a Sneeze’ landed on my blog! Why oh why would anybody want to search Google for that?!


Something is stuck in my New Perspective Piper

I had a sizeable number of visitors today from a Christian blog (Between Two Worlds by Justin Taylor) that, to judge from the sidebar links, is a tad more conservative than mine. Still, I not only enjoyed skimming through the highly recommended contents, but also landed on a link to a recent John Piper article on ‘Jesus, Islam, Pharisees, and the New Perspective on Paul’. Though ‘Pastor John’ is undoubtedly more conservative in many of his theological judgments than I, I have learnt much from him - especially from his book The Pleasures of God, which really helped me to think through and enjoy the glory of the Father’s delight in his Son in a profoundly moving way.

In the above article Piper takes a few shots at the Pauline New Perspective – some of which land on target, while others, in my opinion, are a little muddled – as also is the implied parallelism in overall theme (cf. the final paragraph of his article). To pick up on one of the potential problems, he argues against Wright’s stab at the caricature of 1st century Judaism as ‘self-help moralism’ with the claim that:
‘People don’t go to hell for “keeping the law out of gratitude” as a “proper response to grace.” People go to hell for relying on themselves instead of grace’.
In other words, Jews weren’t ‘covenantal nomists’ relying on gracious election into the covenant as the basis for law-obedience, but were rather trying to earn their salvation and were hence in danger of hell. Not only is this, in my opinion, a category muddle, I would suggest that Piper is anachronistically reading back later concerns and dogmatic considerations back into the Gospel texts (and Paul) that are concerned with paralleled yet not equivalent problems. A historical study of the real problems at stake, as evident in the narratives that shaped first century Jewish (and early Christian) identity, I think makes this clear. This is another way of saying that the process of contextualisation is such an important moment in exegesis, as it guards against eisegesis.

To put it more poetically, and to mimic George Tyrrell (no, not Schweitzer - that is a myth of Bultmannian proportions):

‘We have to be so careful, when peering into the puddle of water at the bottom of the u-bend of history, that we don’t allow ourselves to get enamoured with our own reflection, however turd-ridden the waters be’.

I should have been a poet - that is bloody genius. Yes, admittedly, this picture springs oh so easily to my mind given my long, painful night, a couple of days ago, puking into the ‘big white telephone’. But that is beside the point.

By the way, don’t know what a turd is? Discover all here (the third definition in particular wrinkled my face into a smile).

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - Part 7

Click here for the series outline.

Chapter 3. Names in the Gospel Traditions

In the following I briefly summarise the general argument Bauckham employs in justification of his case as detailed in the previous post. His focus concerns the significance of the naming of i) the women at the cross and the tomb, ii) Simon of Cyrene and his sons and iii) certain recipients of Jesus’ healing miracles.

i) In all the Synoptic Gospels the role of women as eyewitnesses is, as Bauckham notes, crucial: ‘they see Jesus die, they see his body being laid in the tomb, they find the tomb empty’ (Here I must refer to Bauckham’s excellent work, Gospel women: studies of the named women in the gospels [Grand Rapids, Mich. : Eerdmans, 2002]. Click here for more information on the Eerdmans website, with access to a free excerpt – the whole introduction!). A comparison of the difference in variation of names of the women mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels could suggest that the writers were not interested in historical accuracy at this point. However, Bauckham insists that the variations are evidence of ‘the scrupulous care with which the Gospels present the women as witnesses’. The Gospel writers were careful only to name those who were known as eyewitnesses of specific events, even when this left the edges of the narrative unpolished. Furthermore, these women arguably remained prominent in the early church and were associated with the transmission of these traditions.

ii) While readers of Mark would naturally assume that the Twelve disciples were the major sources of the traditions within the Gospel, when they vanish from the narrative (at 14:72) the reader is left wondering who the witnesses to these events were until the mention of the women in 15:40. Who, then, witnessed the events in 15:1-15:39? Enter Simon of Cyrene. The only variation in the Synoptics is that Mark names his two sons, while Matthew and Luke omit them. Bauckham argues that Mark cites them as he appeals to Simon’s eyewitness testimony not first-hand but through his sons. And they were named as they remained well-known figures in the early church and could be asked about the events themselves, whereas by the time of Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospel, they were no longer available or well known.

iii) The recipients of Jesus’ healings were not often named so appeal to genre cannot explain why some were named in specific stories. To take an example:
‘In the cases of Jairus, whose name is dropped by Matthew, and Bartimaeus, whose name is dropped by both Matthew and Luke, we encounter once again the phenomenon of a character who must have been named by Mark because he was well-known in the early Christian movement but whose name was dropped by one or both of the later Synoptic evangelists, presumably because at the time at which they wrote or in the part of the Christian movement with which they were most familiar this figure was not well-known’
This alleged eyewitness function of the recipients of Jesus’ healings is also suggested by the words of Quadratus (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 4.3.2), who reminisces about a time in his life ‘of which it could credibly be said that some people healed by Jesus were still alive’.

Finally, and displaying the fair and honest judgment that typifies Bauckham’s handling of matters throughout the book, he notes that while the existence of vivid detail within a story is not strictly evidence for or against it be reflective of an eyewitness retelling, ‘it is at least interesting that some of the stories we have suggested come from those who are named in them are among the most vividly told’.

(Artwork via

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Chris Caragounis on NT Greek

What a horrible frigging last day. I tell you, these evil German ‘tummy bugs’ don’t take prisoners; they mercilessly cause you to throw up for the whole night long – literally –, and then wake you up for the next day with the mother of all headaches, and a fever so malicious you could fry eggs on your cheeks.

Thank God that I’m feeling a bit better now.

Anyway, enough self-pity; time for good news. Some of you may remember that I posted about Chrys Caragounis’ excellent and important work, The Development of Greek and the New Testament. Morphology, Syntax, Phonology, and Textual Transmission, last January. The work generated some surprisingly strong debate with Moses Silva, yet Chrys has helpfully detailed the dispute and uploaded his response on his webpage, here.

Chrys e-mailed about a week ago to happily inform me that Baker Academic is about to publish a considerably more affordable paperback edition. It should appear around Christmas 2006.

For more information with endorsements of the book, click here. I for one wish Chrys much success with this deeply insightful and learned work.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Bauckham responds

Time for the promised e-mail comments from Professor Richard Bauckham in response to certain criticisms. As I mentioned under point two of the previous post, Richard naturally doesn’t have the time to get muddled into all of the debates and questions in the comments of my posts on his work, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (cf. here for the series outline). I am very grateful that he nevertheless wanted to dash off a few thoughts in relation to some of the criticisms, posted in the comments in parts 4 and 5 of my review, directed against his understanding of the significance of the Papias evidence. Do have a look at those posts and the following discussion, and enjoy Richard’s comments below:

“(1) Papias wrote 5 books of Gospel traditions with commentary. Why do writers who knew Papias quote so few of these traditions? Because most of them paralleled material in the canonical Gospels and they had no interest in quoting such material. For them, the canonical Gospels were a better source of this material, so why bother with Papias? What they quoted was interesting, otherwise unknown or otherwise paralleled only in apocryphal sources, material. I know no better explanation of why we have so few quotations from Papias’s book.
(2) Eusebius was highly prejudiced against Papias. The ‘strange parables’ is his evaluation of them. Especially if they were ‘millenarian’ in character he would have thought them worthless.
(3) I do not think Papias knew the Gospel of the Hebrews. Rather the story he told about the woman accused of many sins is a story that Eusebius knew in the Gospel of the Hebrews. Eusebius is interested in tracing references to use of canonical and noncanonical scriptures in the early period. I think if Papias clearly referred to the Gospel of the Hebrews we would expect Eusebius to make this clearer.
(4) However, supposing Papias did make use of the Gospel of the Hebrews, I don’t see any particular problem in this. We have very few fragments of this Gospel and so it’s very difficult to make judgments about it. But it may have contained lots of authentic traditions. Why not? I’m not in the business of claiming that the canonical Gospels were the only Gospels preserving good early traditions about Jesus. Why should Carr think I am? Because he casts me (without reading the book) in some kind of fundamentalist role.
(5) Doubtless the tradition about the death of Judas is legendary. I expect most oral history includes some legendary material along with good reminiscences. I’ve no problem with this.
(6) The story about Justus Barsabbas may be true. Who knows? It appears to be related to the Longer Ending of Mark.
(7) To say that Papias thought of himself as a historian and knew what good historical practice was supposed to be, is not necessarily to say he was particularly good at implementing such practice. I do not claim he was and it’s not the point I was interested in. We have far too little of his work to be able to judge the matter, I think, given that the quotations we have from him are likely (for reasons stated above) to be unrepresentative of his work as a whole. But there were plenty of historians in the ancient world who knew what good historical practice was supposed to be but didn’t practise it very well”.
At the end of his e-mail Richard made a point that I’ve been stressing throughout: ‘In general, this kind of criticism is much more worthwhile from someone who’s read the chapter itself, rather than just your summary (good as it is)’.

Indeed! I would add that I think this is all the more the case for those who seem - as far as I see it - to be finding Richard’s arguments somehow threatening.

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Three points

First, I wanted to point to the excellent discussion that has followed in the comments to my previous post. I think I’ll pursue these issues with an extended comment of my own in which I’ll try to be more concrete about my own position concerning the pros and cons of the NP. I continue to learn much from my readers, so I look forward to more interaction on these matters.

Second, and speaking of comments by readers, Richard Bauckham has been following with interest the discussions prompted by my review/summary posts of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. In response to various criticisms on his arguments, as they were presented in parts 4 and 5 of my review (i.e. those concerning Papias), Richard has written a response for me to post on the blog which I shall probably upload tomorrow.

Naturally, Richard doesn’t have the time to read and get muddled into all of the debates and questions in the comments of my posts; he was simply kind enough to make some time this once. And hopefully it will help to clarify his position in light of certain criticisms.

I’ll say this as clearly as possible: if you want to seriously engage with the arguments Richard presents in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses then please don’t rely just on my overview of his argument. Read his book yourselves and delve into the arguments and the associated evidence before making a judgment. I simply cannot detail all of the evidence he cites nor the reasoning he uses. Not only do I not have the time, but I would then simply be re-writing the book, and my effort won’t ever be as good as Richard’s original!

Third, I have really enjoyed reading the numerous stimulating comments on a few of my posts recently, many of which I would love to engage further. However, I’ve been rather busy with other matters and have not found the time to do so. I simply wanted to say that I will try to comment on some of the matters in due time. I have not ignored them.

Footnote: Why the ethically dubious picture of three scantily clad beauties? Well, first off, it’s art. OK? Only uncivilised and uncouth yobs see anything else. Admittedly, some works of art do tend to push out the boat a bit, but it’s still art.

Besides, the image reflects the fact that I have written three points.

One woman per point, in other words.

I’ll perhaps try to sort out more points on a later post as I’m hoping to make a cheerleader squad. An arty cheerleader squad, of course.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Judgment and Justification

I was browsing the biblical study section of the webpage of Hendrickson Publishers tonight, and I happily noticed that they often serve up a generous sample chapter for a number of their titles. And one book that has caught my eye recently, which I look forward to reading in due course, is Chris VanLandingham’s Judgment and Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul (Hendrickson, 2006). In the sample chapter VanLandingham starts off with an astonishing and to my mind counter intuitive claim (how far the NP has brought us that this should seem ‘counter intuitive’!):
“Countering E. P. Sanders’s notion that in Palestine and Diaspora Judaism obedience does not earn God’s grace, election, or salvation, I take up in this chapter the issues of election, grace, and their relationship, and in the next chapter salvation, grace, and their relationship. I contend that election (like salvation) is not a gift of God’s grace, but a reward for proper behavior” (italics mine)
Can this thesis really be sustained? I look forward to this book!