Friday, February 29, 2008

Dan reflects on NT Wright and Hell


Thursday, February 28, 2008

How to read the NT canon

"I suggest, Christians should learn to read the canon of the NT, not in search of an essential core or purified "canon within the canon"—not, in other words, within the frame of a single abstract principle—but in a living conversation with all the writings in all their diversity and divergence. Only in this way can they continue to speak"

Luke Timothy Johnson & T.C. Penner, The writings of the New Testament: An interpretation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), 613.

Quote of the day

"Yes, Paul was someone caught up in a mission. Yes, Paul's life-story had a cruciform shape. And yes, Paul regularly suffered for participating in God's mission and Christ's cross. But in spite of this all-consuming passion and its consequences—or perhaps because of it—Paul was someone whose participation in God's new creation was an experience of joy now (Gal 5:22; Philippians), and he was someone whose anticipation of future indescribable joy and glory kept him going (Rom 5:2; 1 Cor 2:9). The pilgrim church on earth that is shaped by his gospel will share that joy and hope, even as we discern how we can participate more fully and faithfully in the same divine mission with Paul-like zeal, courage, and imagination"

Michael Gorman, Reading Paul (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2008), 188

Hanging in my study

Hanging in Jim West's study are framed pictures, unsurprisingly, of Zwingli, Luther, Bultmann etc (though I bet he's got a depraved 'Cheerleaders in Soap-suds' calendar up behind his books somewhere, as well). If I remember rightly (I may not have), Ben Myers once posted about various decorations in his study. He showed pictures of a Bultmann bust he owns! A damn bust!

My study ... well, I say 'study'. It really is a study, but it is also my lounge and dining room! ... is a different matter. Instead of a bust of Bultmann or Barth, or a portrait of a great theologian or thinker, I have, and have had so for years, hanging next to my desk:

Does my lack of sophistication worry me? Nope.

Speaking of written prayers ...

For my potentially controversial presentation at the Tübingen colloquium tomorrow:

'Dear person about whom the WWJD wrist bracelets speak, please just grant Chris unusual charisma and intelligence tomorrow with his paper presentation and the following discussion. Just smite those who would "critique him in a mean way" with bad dandruff, antiperspirant that doesn't work, milk that goes sour very quickly, like, just, really the like next day, plates and pans that just don't get clean, even after just really hard scrubbing with all kind of cleaning liquids, and an inability to speak for 40 days and nights'

Either that, or pray one of Jüngel's deeply trinitarian and profound prayers, found here. But add a few 'justs' and about three 'Lords' per sentence, or what's the point?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


As Phil Sumpter explains, he is on his way down here to Tübingen for a colloquium, at which I will present a paper on 1 Corinthians 8 and inerrancy. Unfortunately, my neck went into a terribly painful spasm a couple of days ago, which literally stopped my typing or preparing for the lecture. Thankfully the pain is subsiding now, which means I'm back to the high calling of hacking at certain modern 'inerrancy' formulations such as the Disaster in Chicago Statement. I still can't believe the ETS adopted it.

Collections of Prayers

I love praying through written prayers. Of course, I have a stable diet of the C of E 'Daily Prayer' plus a few other liturgies, but I mean to refer to collections of just prayers. One of my favourites is by Karl Rahner, Gebete des Lebens. Barth's Gebete is another.

Can you recommend me any others? I would love to expand my library in this direction.

Theological breakthrough of the day

Big news today, completely destroying all of the central arguments in my own doctoral work: Undeniable Proof that Jesus is Not God

A great new site on science and theology

... has been launched by my friend, David Vinson.


His story reflects, in many ways, a more advanced version of my own on the subject of theology and science (i.e. from sound and solid Fundie to suspicious compromise!).

He writes: 'As a typical American conservative evangelical, I spent over 20 years thinking that the only proper Christian approach to biological evolution was to denounce it, despite my training in physiology (UC Berkeley) and medicine (UC Davis) and an ongoing vocation as clinician and research scientist'.

He continues: 'After years of study, conversation, and conferences, what have I discovered? To my surprise (and relief!) I found that both of my presuppositions were neither necessary nor sensible. Evolutionary science is not inherently atheistic. Rather, like all of science, including medicine, it seeks to provide natural explanations for the way things work. It is not suited to speak to supernatural causes or purposes ... It's been an intriguing and exciting investigation for me. Much has been learned. And I know that more, far more, awaits me. The resources you'll encounter on the following pages are those that helped guide me out of the world of polarized and polemic (and often pointless) debate to a place of congenial and constructive dialogue'.

David's enthusiasm for learning, for honest dialogue and searching questioning is contagious. Enjoy his webpage!

Monday, February 25, 2008

The ‘knowledgeable’ in 1 Corinthians

I'd be interested to hear what people think of Volker Gäckle's recent and extensive study on the 'strong' and the 'weak' in Corinth and Rome (Die Starken und die Schwachen). It has been received well even by Gäckle's 1 Corinthians 8-10 'sparring partner', Woyke (cf. Johannes Woyke, "Das Bekenntnis zum einzig allwirksamen Gott und Herrn und die Dämonisierung von Fremdkulten: Monolatrischer und polylatrischer Monotheismus in 1. Korinther 8 und 10," in Gruppenreligionen im römischen Reich. Sozialformen, Grenzziehungen und Leistungen, J Rüpke [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007], 101)

Based upon an examination of the likely Corinthian slogans and citations found in 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1, the concepts and vocabulary found therein, and the semantic field of ἀσθεν- ('weak'), Gäckle proposes a compelling portrait of the 'strong'. The description of a group as 'weak' by another is based upon 'kognitiv-rationalen edukativen und psychisch-emotionalen Kategorien' (108). He thus argues that the 'strong' are notably concerned about cognitive categories. 'Ebenso wie in 1Kor 8 liegt der Schwerpunkt der Diskussion in 1Kor 1-4 auf der Frage nach der Bedeutung von Wissen und Erkenntnis' (200). Indeed, he shows in detail that there are many examples in ancient literature of the pejorative characterisation of another group as ἀσθενής by a cognitively focused group (cf. 1 Cor. 4:10; 8:7, 9, 10; 9:22; 12:22). Gäckle writes:

‚Wie fast alle korinthischen Zitate und Begriffe lässt auch dieses Zitat ['Wir haben Erkenntnis'] ein aristokratisches Bewusstsein durchscheinen, das sich auf eine intellektuelle Welt- und Gotteserkenntnis gründet ... Der Glaube der starken nahm seinen Ausgangspunkt bei der Suche nach dem intellektueller Gotteserkenntnis' (190. Cf. also 189, 200–204).

The Corinthian 'knowledge' involves elitist cognitive concerns, an Intellektualismus (201).

Hit or miss?

Discussion on hell

I'm not sure what you imagine hell to be. If you are sane then it probably has something to do with being forced to read Jim West's blog. But whatever your thoughts on this subject, you may be interested to read the discussion on my friend Jason Clark's blog. He explains:

"On Monday we have Gregory McDonald writing about why he is an evangelical universalist, based on his book which has just been released in the UK: The evangelical universalist.

On Tuesday we have a response from Kevin Corcoran an associate professor of philosophy at Calvin College. Kevin also has his own blog here.

On Wednesday we have the thoughts of Dr Justin Thacker who is head of theology at the Evangelical Alliance UK. Justin's regular comment on events of the week can be found here."

"Gregory" has posted his offering here.

In a nutshell: the problem with inerrancy

Modern formulations of biblical inerrancy (such as the Chicago statement) are faulty because they do not correspond with the reality to which their manner of discourse makes appeal. In other words, within the genre of analytical discourse, the medium in which modern formulations are presented, appeal to inerrancy flounders on the demonstrable error its claim, and it loses sight of its strictly doxological status.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Eat, drink and be merry

We had a delightful meal tonight here. Swabian cuisine at its best. If you are ever in the Tübingen area and want to experience local traditional dishes, that is the place to visit.

And for the first time ever I home roasted some fresh green coffee beans. What a glorious cup of coffee they made. The first picture is of the Ethiopian raw Mokka beans. I'm grateful that the local coffee shop imports them for a few African immigrants living in the area (they've come out a bit blue in this picture for some reason??)

The second picture is taken after about 10 minutes of roasting, together with some of the freshly grounded coffee powder. I wish you could smell it through the internet as it has a heavenly aroma.

For an interesting aside on coffee and official papal activities, have a read of this. One of the points notes: 'Dervishes--mystic devotees of Islam's Sufi sect--consumed coffee at all-night ceremonies as fuel for achieving religious ecstasy'. Funny: I use coffee as fuel for achieving decent exegesis after I've woken up, when I'm so tired I can't even remember my own name.

Academic theology stuck in a crisis?

Prof. Friedrich Wilhelm Graf thinks so.

To generalise horribly, I have mixed feelings about much German NT exegesis. While it most often proves to be the best in the world when it comes to depth of research and syntactical analysis of the Greek, it can also tend to be rather insular in its focus.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Name it and claim it! 5 years married today

'If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer' (Mt. 21:22)

Zoom back about 7-8 years to my 'prayer closet':

'Pleeeeeeease give me a super hot wife, Lord, who for some reason really loves me a lot, and who is super wonderful, likes massaging my head and is just perfect for me. Victorious AMMMEEEEEENNNN'.

Actually, in my more charismatic and pietistic days that prayer probably sounded more like this:

'If you would just hear me Lord now, Lord. Oh Lord, please just grant me, Lord, a wife, for, Lord, it is, Lord, written "He who finds a wife finds a good thing". And that I do not burn within … [here I probably reminded God of something Saint Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7], please just hear me, Lord, for a fair wife, Lord, who loves you'

And five years ago on this day, God happily answered my prayers! I married my beautiful, precious wife, Anja, whom I love so dearly. May God also graciously grant us many more happy years together!

Both of these pictures were taken on that amazing day, 5 years ago. Of course, the question on everybody's lips is: 'How the hell did he manage that?!' I point readers to the new poll on my sidebar: 'How did Chris manage to marry such a looker?' I voted for options 2 and 4 of course.

"Ich liebe dich, Anja, so ganz arg viel,
Am Abend und am Morgen,
Noch war kein Tag, wo du und ich
Nicht teilten unsre Sorgen.
Und wenn die Liebe ein Chamäleon
ist denn liebe ich dich
mit verschiedenen Farben"

Beat that, Goethe!

Richard Bauckham - A Short Video Interview

From, with other video interviews with James Charlesworth and Tom Wright.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Happy News

As many have already discovered, Jim West, so moved by the flood of e-mails, blog posts etc., has decided to give a new blog try! I'm so thankful he didn't give up, which would have only completed the malicious actions of the hackers. You will be able to find his putreficly slanderous anti-Wright (peace be upon him), foaming mouthed Zwinglilatrous, 'emergent' misrepresenting, and borderline depraved but always engaging and fun to read post here:

He thereby, of course, extends a deserved middle finger in the general direction of the hackers.

Book Review: Reading Paul

My thanks to the great chaps at Wipf and Stock for a review copy of Michael J. Gorman's Reading Paul, Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2008

It is not often that I am as excited about getting a book in the post as I was waiting for Michael Gorman's Reading Paul. Apart from the fact that Gorman is a most accomplished Pauline scholar, I simply love introductory books on biblical themes. Indeed, if I'm honest, even if a book is targeted for beginners I often learn a lot more from them than many others. Also promoting my interest in this book were the blubs by Richard Hays and Joel Green, both of whom were fairly unrestrained in their praise of this little book: 'This splendid introduction to the Apostle Paul is the best book of its kind', said Hays; 'Michael Gorman has given us an extra ordinary gift', wrote Green!

But what particularly attracted me to this little book
was its focus. Instead of detailing a Pauline chronology and the various steps in Paul's missionary journeys (matters that tend to leave me a little cold), Gorman focuses upon providing a framework for understanding Paul's theology. In practice this means that Gorman examines, after three chapters on Paul, his letters, and his gospel, 'eight themes that a lie in and behind his letters' (6). Gorman's project is not, however, an exercise in abstract theologising, but rather aims to present Paul's letters as Christian scripture. He argues:

'To be sure, there is merit in remembering that Paul and his letter-recipients lived in a culture different from our own. We need to acknowledge the distance between now and then, and we need to employ tools to understand "then." But the perspective that stresses difference should not be the governing view we bring to the reading of Paul. If it is, we betray the apostle's own purpose in writing and forget the very meaning of the word "Scripture."' (4)

As I noted in a previous post, Gorman introduces his task by attempting to summarise Paul in one sentence. This sentence introduces all the themes that he will seek to unpack in the following chapters. He first examines the apocalyptic in Paul. Quite rightly, in the next chapter, he goes on to examine 'the Gospel of God' in terms of covenant faithfulness. Gorman thus avoids the false either / or between apocalyptic and covenant. Naturally he draws from Tom Wright's work at this point, especially his language of Christ as the 'climactic event' of God is dealings with Israel (68). After examining the meaning of Christ's death in Paul, he turns, in chapter 8, to examine the meaning and (eschatological) logic of the resurrection in Paul and the meaning of the statement 'Jesus is Lord'. In this chapter Gorman pays particular attention to eschatological claims and is careful to emphasise the physicality of Paul's hope.

In a chapter that no doubt some will want to read first, Gorman then turns to the question of justification by faith. Naturally, he emphasises participation in Christ. To no doubt cause disappointment for some and prompt others to sing for joy, he explains in a brief footnote his position on E. P. Sanders' Paul and Palestinian Judaism:

'Although other aspects of this book have been rightly challenged, and although Sanders does not offer a fully satisfying account of the connection between justification and participation, he was on the right track' (113 n.6)

However, Gorman maintains that there are several interlocking streams of biblical thought informing Paul's understanding of justification/righteousness (114-115). This enables him to not only lampoon 'cheap grace' but also affirm that there is truth in different approaches to justification in Paul (traditional Protestant and 'new perspective'). For Gorman 'justification and participation are two sides of the same coin, the coin of relationship to God in Christ by the Spirit, because faith for Paul is above all sharing in the fullness of Jesus that culminated on the cross ' (130).

Gorman then goes on to discuss the meaning of the church as 'God's countercultural and multicultural beloved community that walks in the Spirit of Christ' (143). This leads naturally into his eleventh chapter and a discussion of his notion of 'cruciformity'. He proposes that '[h]oliness for Paul, we have suggested, is a countercultural life shaped by the presence of the crucified and resurrected Christ who is present within his people' (145). He maintains that '[c]ruciformity, conformity to Christ crucified, is Paul's all-encompassing spirituality' (165). It is within this frame that Gorman discusses the meanings of 'faith', 'Love' and 'hope'.

In chapter 12 he returns again to eschatological themes. He argues that '[g]ross misunderstanding and misdirected zeal characterize much popular, and even some more sophisticated, theological reflection on the things to come' (179). Of course, this involves the compulsory sideswipe at the anti-creational Left Behind novels!

The themes of the final chapter (the character of God, the theopolitical character of the Gospel and the church, some things that should mark out the church, and the inseparability of faith, hope and love) show particularly clearly how Gorman, in this book, has treated Paul's letters as scripture. Indeed, at end of each chapter is a useful summary as well as a number of questions for reflection. In other words, this is an ideal book for group discussion on Paul. In fact, I plan to use it soon in a church group myself.

I will not here detail all potential points of disagreement, but I will mention just a few thoughts. First, I remain unconvinced that '[c]ruciformity, conformity to Christ crucified, is Paul's all-encompassing spirituality' (165). While not directly engaging with this question, the kind of material analysed in my doctorate puts a question mark after such a claim. Second. I'm not sure that Wright's language of 'climax', which Gorman simply adopts, is the best. While I suspect Scott Hafemann goes too far in the other direction, do see his critique of Wright on this point in his review of The New Testament and the People of God in JETS 40 (1997), pp. 305-308. Third, I am not sure Gorman managed to grasp the historically contingent nature of Paul's eschatology firmly enough (cf. the works of Andrew Perriman for more on this topic. Though like Hafemann, I suspect he goes too far at various points as well). I would also have liked more discussion about the practice of reading the context of the OT texts which find allusion and citation in Paul's letters. Of course, it is easy to make such 'know-it-all' comments at the end of a review. The hard work has been done by Gorman, and I agree with Green: Gorman's book is indeed a precious gift.


From Jim West

It is with a heavy heart that I write these introductory sentences. Jim West, whose blog was deleted yesterday by malicious hackers, has asked me to post the following:

“I want to thank all those who have dropped me a line or posted on their own blog words of encouragement and urging continuation. I'm appreciative and even (potentially) a bit humbled (ah but that's already passed, thankfully- what a wretched feeling that humility nonsense is).

While I appreciate your sentiments, I don't think I'll re-enter the fray. I'll post from time to time on and occasionally on (both of which are 'group' blogs); and of course I'll remain active on the biblical studies list- but at present I don't imagine I'll launch another private blog. I think I'll just let the vacuum caused by my absence naturally fill with newer, better, and more adorably oriented biblioblogs, and focus on my printed works aimed at church folk.

With all my denunciations of total depravity and my constant assertions concerning the reality of Divine Providence, it would be hypocritical were I surprised to be the victim of the one and the servant of the other. Perhaps this 'closed door' is best after all.

Receive all my best wishes, biblioblogging brothers (and I think 1 or 2 sisters), as you carry on the work. It's yours now. Do well.”

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Book Review: The New Conspirators

Paternoster sent me a manuscript of a forthcoming book to be published later this month (by IVP in the US). So I have the delightful privilege of reviewing Tom Sine's, The New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time.

You may have heard of Sine, as I did, through his earlier book, Mustard Seed vs. McWorld: Reinventing Life and Faith for the Future, or perhaps you did through his bestseller: The Mustard Seed Conspiracy (Word 1981). If you have never heard of him, Sine is adjunct professor for Fuller Theological Seminary in Seattle, has a Ph.D. in history (with a minor in 'futures study' from the University of Washington) and is an engaging, politically aware and 'spiritually deep' author. Turning the first page I expected something good, but The New Conspirators exceeded my expectations.

About the book: It is divided into four 'conversations' (a much more trendy word than 'chapter'!). Each 'conversation' is filled with stories, information about specific groups, (sometimes very) personal reflection etc., and is consequently easy to read at the same time as being thoroughly informative.

Conversation I, 'Taking the New Conspirators Seriously', overviews four 'imaginative new expressions of life, church and mission' (11), namely the following four streams

  • emerging (including analysis of the importance of blogs!)
  • missional (those influenced profoundly by Lesslie Newbigin's book, Gospel in a Pluralist Society, and works such as The Missional Church etc.)
  • mosaic (defined as 'multicultural churches reaching out to a new generation' - 11)
  • monastic (the Northumbria and Iona communities, the Franciscans, Word Made Flesh [WMF], etc) - I sensed, perhaps wrongly, that Sine feels particular sympathy with this stream.

Conversation II, 'Taking the Culture Seriously' functions as a tour of the post 9/11 world, examining particularly globalisation and how it affects the life of faith. He writes with pressing concern:

'Not only does this imperial global economy claim to define what is ultimate, I believe it is increasingly colonizing the imaginations of peoples all over our planet to buy into its notions of what constitutes the good life and better future. No wonder that many of Islamic faith are concerned. And we should be to' (39)

He is firmly convinced that there is a 'religious' battle 'for the hearts and minds of the next generation', with the new global economy challenging the practices and beliefs of ancient faith communities, both offering incompatible and competing hopes and eschatologies. In examining these matters, and others like global consumerism, he seeks to understand how the four streams detailed in the first 'conversation' respond to the issues at hand.

Conversation III, 'Taking the Future of God Seriously', is an impassioned re-evaluation of popular eschatologies that have gripped the church in the West. It seeks to offer a more robust, biblical and practical eschatological vision, by focusing on the inauguration of the kingdom of God. Eschatology and the Christian hope, he quite rightly insists, is not just about 'going to heaven when you die', but about the recognition of 'another world that is already here' (66). Drawing upon the work of the likes of Wright (peace be upon him), Moltmann, Brueggemann etc., he looks through important Scriptures and places special emphasises on the importance of such (often neglected and/or misunderstood) matters as 'resurrection' 'evil', 'empire', 'judgement' etc.

Conversation IV, 'Taking the Turbulent Times Seriously', is an attempt to outline ways in which traditional churches, as well as those outlined in 'Conversation I', can think creatively and prophylactically about 'new challenges before they fully arrive on our doorsteps' (13). Given his minor in 'futures study', he details what he thinks are likely to be the challenges that will confront the church in the next 10 to 15 years. Rightly, he emphasises such matters as the abuse of the environment, the growing gap between the world's rich and poor, the challenges facing 'the imperilled poor' (107), homelessness, the specific concerns of the Western poor, the likely situation for the middle classes, soaring healthcare costs, the role of global power, the precarious situation of the church in the West, the coming mission funding crisis, etc., and discusses some ways that have been attempted of empowering individuals and communities to make a difference.

Conversation V, 'Taking our Imagination Seriously' is another global tour, this time introducing people who are finding new and creative ways of living in the inaugurated kingdom of God in their changing worlds. While not simply for novelty's sake, he invites us in this section to ignite our imaginations, to become innovators in the kingdom of God. The chapter starts with the question:

'Are you ready to join the new conspirators in imagining and creating new approaches to whole-life faith, community and mission that engaged the new challenges and give creative expression to that world that is already here?' (133)

This section is simply packed with practical wisdom and advice, dotted, as throughout the book, with inspirational stories. To be honest, I think that this 'conversation' is itself worth the 'price of admission'. Rather appropriately, the book ends with an index of organisations to pursue thoughts. In other words, this book is far from being a theoretical manual about various new types of church, or a theoretical reconsideration of eschatology. It is a profoundly practical call to live as followers of Christ in changing cultures.

At the end of each section he supplies a number of questions appropriate to the material in each 'conversation' such that the book can be used for groups.

'The New Conspirators' is the sort of book that I will find myself returning to in order to facilitate my thinking and stimulate my imagination as I seek, together with family and friends, to live with and for Christ and to express the inaugurated kingdom of God. I may prefer to understand some of the Bible passages Sine refers to slightly differently, and as more historically contingent to the story of Israel, but what he offers is, I think, an appropriate handling of these scriptures in light of today. For example, I am not so sure that 'kingdom of God' really means what Sine seems to think it does. I don't think we can translate the phrase one-on-one with 'social reform' today (I blame a certain Andrew Perriman for that insight). However, what he invests in the phrase 'kingdom of God' is a, I think, very appropriate reading of the term for today's 'scene' in the drama of God's dealings with creation, in which we all participate. Part of Sine's political vision reminded me of the sort of project outlined in Walsh and Keesmaat's Colossians Remixed, and, well, I'm not yet totally convinced. However, Chris Tilling talking about politics is like Rambo talking about Haiku, so I won't continue that line of thought. These (in practice small) points aside, The New Conspirators is a book written to help facilitate the implied readers live lives according to the gospel of God, a task in which Sine excels, and in my opinion more than succeeds.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Track of the Day

I just can't get enough of the beautiful, depressing, haunting 'Ruska' by Apocalyptica, today. Here is a poor quality Youtube version.

Garlington on Piper’s The Future of Justification

Here is a superb review of Piper's The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright, written by Don Garlington.

The more I ponder some of Piper's criticisms of Wright, the more I tend to the following conclusion: His presentation problematically tends to think words like 'justification' are to be interpreted according to a story that does not quite do, one that is influenced heavily by pietism, the Calvinism of the 'period of reformation', and modernity. It lacks the scriptural robustness and biblical-narrative-hugging scope of vision offered by Wright, and to that degree it hinders his analysis and exegesis.

Caragounis’ Greek Corinth

NT scholar, Prof. Chrys Caragounis of Lund University, and author of the important WUNT title, The Development of Greek and the New Testament, has recently published a summary of his 50 page study, originally presented at the Corinthian Congress of September 2007, on the 'nature and structure of Corinthian Christianity during its early years'.

Of particular importance is his challenge to the prevailing view that the city of Corinth was formed after a Roman model. Indeed, of the three 'fundamental points for our understanding of the epistle', Thiselton places at first place the suggestion that 'the city community and city culture of Corinth were formed after a Roman model, not a Greek one' (Thiselton A., The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 3). Caragounis makes the case that the truth is precisely the opposite! So Caragounis' thesis is potentially very important. Click here for the English version of his summary.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A continuing Exile? (once again)

Pharisee Abtalion (teacher of Hillel) speaks against Alexandria:

'Abtalion said: Ye sages, give head to your words lest ye incur the penalty of exile and ye be exiled to a place of evil waters, and the disciples that come after you drink (of them) and die, and the name of Heaven be profound' (Mishnah, Aboth 1.11)

Cited in Richard Bell, The Irrevocable Call of God, Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen: 2005, 11. He adds: 'This puts in question the idea of N.T. Wright that Israel regarded the Babylon exile as continuing into the present day' (ibid., 11 n. 50)

I think Bell's reasoning fails to persuade, but the point is taken and is a reason why I adopt the 'exile-restoration' motif as the controlling story in the gospels as a critique, not a generally held view, especially for those living in Jerusalem. Indeed, I would argue that the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 implies some did not consider themselves in exile – one son went to a distant land, the other remained.

On the other hand, cf. the clear evidence in Baruch.

Baruch 1:21 - 3:8
21 We did not listen to the voice of the Lord our God in all the words of the prophets whom he sent to us, 22 but all of us followed the intent of our own wicked hearts by serving other gods and doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord our God. 2:1 So the Lord carried out the threat he spoke against us: against our judges who ruled Israel, and against our kings and our rulers and the people of Israel and Judah … 4 He made them subject to all the kingdoms around us, to be an object of scorn and a desolation among all the surrounding peoples, where the Lord has scattered them … 13 Let your anger turn away from us, for we are left, few in number, among the nations where you have scattered us. 14 Hear, O Lord, our prayer and our supplication, and for your own sake deliver us, and grant us favor in the sight of those who have carried us into exile … 3:8 See, we are today in our exile where you have scattered us, to be reproached and cursed and punished for all the iniquities of our ancestors, who forsook the Lord our God.

Breaking news: Amazing archaeological find

One of the great privileges of living near Tübingen is that I rub shoulders with some amazing biblical scholars. And it is a deep honour that I've been permitted by one of them based at the Theologikum, to announce an amazing archaeological find.

I feel really honoured to be the first to publically announce the following.

Recently, ancient artwork was found in excavations at Megiddo. Not only has an ancient wall portrait been found, but the figure is clearly identified in an almost perfectly maintained inscription underneath. None other than the Bible's 'bad girl' Jezebel.

The shocker, as if it wasn't already, is the portrait dates back to almost 800 BC!! In other words, we now know what Jezebel probably really looked like in real life! Of course, there is much more of interest in the picture and inscription, but early date is simply staggering.

What is more, and this is the really exciting bit, my contacts at the University have given me permission to publish a photo of the portrait on this blog!! The quality isn't perfect; the resolution of this photo is a little low (though a better copy will be published by the Megiddo team in due time).

Anyway here is a copy of the recently discovered portrait of Jezebel! (I was not allowed to publish the inscription too)

Hope and love

"Hope and love belong together. Only those who hope with and for others can also love them ... Love's imagination, its creative impulse, lives on hope"

Pannenberg, W. Systematic theology, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 3:182

For those who pray

If you think to, please pray for an ex-pastor and his family in our neighbourhood. He recently lost his much loved wife to a sudden illness, and he is left behind with four young children.

Monday, February 11, 2008

How they get here

An interesting search from Google landed on my blog a few hours ago: 'Can Christians use swear words during sex'!


Not a question I've actually heard before, but valid enough I guess. I'm glad to see Chrisendom being used as a service for all kinds of concerns. To be even more helpful:

Yea, as it is written in Second Deuteronomy 55:16 'Thou canst employeth many colourful expletives during copulation, but only in the act of copulation and not out of it. Otherwise the offending partner shall be removed from the camp for 10 days, and all the members of his tribe shall pooreth old dish water out unto his gutter-mouth until his lesson about out-of-copulation-filthy-cursing hath been learned'

What if?

I had a thought this morning: 'What if new documents were found that proved Zwingli was pro home-schooling? Would Jim West's brain crash like an old PC trying to run new software?' Then I carried on brushing my teeth.

A little lower than angels

Humans: the prize and pinnacle of evolution, masters of their environment. Here's the proof. Thanks, Robin, for sending me the PowerPoint file!

Getting to know me

Question: Chris, what are you giving up for Lent?

Answer: Exercise

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Guest Book Review: Jastrow’s Dictionary

(Thanks to Hendrickson Publishers for a review copy)

By David M. Moffitt

Marcus Jastrow's monumental Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature is well known to anyone who has worked with the immense corpus of rabbinic literature in its original language. The fact that this reference, which was first published in full in 1903, continues to serve as a foundational resource for those wishing to access this body of literature testifies to its enduring quality. Hendrickson's recent republication (November 2005) of this massive lexicon (a whopping 1,736 pages) is a welcome addition to the various other reprints available. The primary advantage of this latest printing lies in its return to the larger format of the original two volumes published over a century ago. The eyes of anyone who has grown accustomed to working with the older, less expensive and more portable reprints from Judaica Press (copyright 1971) will likely be grateful for the Hendrickson volume. Moreover, the list price of $49.95 US dollars (and the actual retail price on of $29.97) continue to make this an affordable reference for those with limited budgets.

Having said that, this reviewer regrets—particularly in light of the delays in its production— that Hendrickson did nothing more than reprint this lexicon. It is perhaps understandable that they did not undertake the massive project of revising and updating Jastrow. Nevertheless, even a few changes and additions to the present text would, in my opinion, have made it worthwhile to pay a bit more for a modified edition of this resource.

First, while the reprint of the larger typeface aids in reading the entries, the less than desirable quality of the original printing remains a problem. Quite apart from the issues of deciphering partial imprints of the English glosses and Greek loan words, distinguishing between partial forms of Hebrew letters such as ב and כ, or ה, ח and ת, or י and ו, or מ and ס (to note only a few of the trickier ones) continues to hobble users for whom Hebrew and Aramaic are not mother tongues. I cannot pretend to know the ins and outs of the realities of the publishing world, but in this age of digital processing and printing, one wonders what prevented Hendrickson from resetting, or, at the very least, polishing the type of the original text.

Second, a few additions to the original lexicon's sole index of biblical references would have been a welcome improvement. One thinks immediately of the potential utility of an appended index of rabbinic citations. Further, given the organization of the original lexicon around roots, more novice students would certainly benefit from an index of Hebrew and Aramaic words. An index of loan words transliterated into Hebrew characters would also increase the research value of this resource. If such tools already exist, I am not aware of them.

In view of the continued usefulness of Jastrow's Dictionary, this new printing—in so far as its size and cost make it an affordable and accessible resource—truly is a positive addition to the library of anyone who intends to work with rabbinic texts in their original language. Regretfully, Hendrickson missed the opportunity to further improve the utility of this work. Perhaps they (or some other publisher) would consider producing a volume of additional appendices for Jastrow? This reviewer, at least, would be grateful.


Thursday, February 07, 2008

A continuing exile?

Would most Jews contemporary with Jesus have considered themselves still in exile?

Points that need to be considered:

  1. Some of Judah returned from exile after the Babylonian exile. A temple was built and the name 'Israel' adopted by many for just the southern tribes, even though the kingdom of Israel was still, as tribes – not just individuals, assimilated into Assyria. Under John Hyrcanus, Judaean territory began to increase.
  2. But, the Assyrian exile of Israel did not end with the return a minority of Judah from Babylon
  3. After domination by one foreign power after another, in Jesus' generation Judah (or 'Israel') found itself under yet another foreign power - Rome.
  4. The Prophets foresaw a restoration of Israel, and this event came with a complex of associated promises: a new heart, a new covenant, new creation, the gift of the Spirit etc. There is no evidence, as far as I know, of a fulfilment of this complex of associated promises before Jesus (correct me if I am wrong)

But did most Jews accept this as true of Israel in Jesus' generation? The evidence is sparse.

For Jesus (or Matthew, Mark or Luke) to have proclaimed a message implying or even explicitly stating the return from exile, it is not necessary to argue that all believed they were still in an exile. To have spoken of a restoration would have implied that Israel and Judah was still in exile, but this could have been an implicit critique of the Temple, and of the sort of confident righteousness with which the synoptics charge the Pharisees.

To make their critique a powerful one, the synoptic authors, and Jesus, would have been able to cite the Prophets for their case (point 4 above – regularly throughout the synoptics, culminating in the Luke 22:20 and the 'new covenant in my blood', the breathing of the Holy Spirit on the disciples in John etc.), as well as point to Diaspora regions (Acts 2 and Pentecost), point to Rome's domination, critique the Temple (as many did, not just Jesus) or mention the lost northern tribes (parable of the Prodigal Son? The mention of Anna in Luke 2?).

So did most Jews contemporary with Jesus have considered themselves still in exile? Perhaps it doesn't matter all that much. The message of a return from exile could have functioned as well as a critique of a supposed 'restored' self-identification, perhaps even more poignantly than as a restatement of an agreed fact. That said, the synoptics would have had the Prophets, the present political situation and the fact of lost northern tribes on their side. Perhaps that is one reason why so many were open to listen to the likes of John the Baptist and Jesus proclaiming Isaiah's 'good news' of the promised restoration?

There is much more to explore here, but it is getting late and I need to head to bed!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Disturbing Scenes

This made me quite nauseous.

Holding hands??

*pukes uncontrollably*

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Breaking News

Scholars Find Treasure Trove of Early New Testament Manuscripts

I'm waiting with seriously bated breath for more news on this!

Windows of the soul

I love looking at other people's bookshelves. I'm persuaded it says a lot about a person. The shelf below constitutes about half of my to read / being read / being re-read pile – though included are only those books that are not a direct part of my doctoral studies. The latter occupy different shelves. This is what I enjoy reading in my spare time.

What a glorious, glorious feast! Jim, I want to draw attention to the big blue one in the top photo towards the left. My all-time favourite!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Intertextual Delusions?

'16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "The one who is righteous will live by faith." (from Hab 2:4) 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth' (Romans 1:16-18).

Andrew Perriman's reading of these verses is fascinating (this post is not a summary of his views, more of a thought experiment with some of his ideas in the back of my head). He is particularly careful to allow the wider context of Habakkuk to inform his understanding of the flow of reasoning in these verses. The first couple of chapters in Habakkuk run as follows:

  1. the Prophet asks God: Why are you letting all of Judah's sins go unpunished (1:2-4)
  2. God answers: I will judge them through Babylon (1:5-11)
  3. the Prophet asks God: But God, how can you use wicked Babylon to punish a nation more righteous than themselves? (1:12-2:1)
  4. God answers: I'll punish Babylon too! (2:2-20)

Just as God's wrath was first to Judah, then to Babylon, so too for Paul's gospel is offering salvation first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. Just as God's wrath will overtake Israel first through Rome's armies, so too will God's wrath also fall upon Rome. So Paul emphasises that God's wrath will be revealed against all ungodliness. This would likely mean that the wrath Paul mentions is coloured by the many OT 'wrath' passages, which speak of that wrath as a concrete historical event, usually involving a military. Think too of 1 Corinthians 7:26 'I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are. Did Paul think of an impending crisis across the Mediterranean world because of the sort of prophetic narrative encapsulated in Habakkuk? Is the 'wrath' Paul mentions a military event?

On the other hand, Francis Watson's masterful analysis of Rom 1:17 in Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith, argues that Paul's introductory formula ('as it is written') does not really allow for too exact an allusion to the wider context of specifically Habakkuk (such sentences as these happen when I write too late at night!).

Is Perriman overplaying the metalepsis card? Or is Watson missing vital clues from the Habakkuk context? Part of the fun of exegesis in Paul is learning to get a feel for when potential intertextual metalepsis is really present, by judging how it illuminates the Pauline text at hand.

I think Pauline studies can be so utterly engrossing and exciting!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Categorical Imperative of the Day

Try to convince a Catholic that the Roman Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon in Revelation because the 'purple and scarlet' mentioned in 18:16-17 is obviously a prophecy about Catholic priestly dress sense ...

... at the same time as convincing a Fundamentalist Protestant that the 'purple and scarlet' mentioned in Revelation 18:16-17 more likely refers to verses in Exodus 35:30-36:1 and 39:1-2, 8-14, not Papal colour fetishes.

The Logic of Gentile mission in Paul and Acts

I'm getting wary of writing posts too late as I tend to write sentences that only need to be refined later. But what the hell.

To detail a point I made in response to Christian Zionism recently:

The fate of the Gentiles among the Prophets is a mixed chorus. Zechariah 8:13 states: 'Just as you have been a cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so I will save you and you shall be a blessing'. This reminds me of many passages in Isa 40-55, like the following:

Isaiah 49:5-8 And now the LORD says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honoured in the sight of the LORD, and my God has become my strength-- 6 he says, "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth." 7 Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, "Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you." 8 Thus says the LORD: In a time of favour I have answered you, on a day of salvation I have helped you; I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages

Significantly, when Paul speaks of his ministry he turns and cites ... Isa 49:9 (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17 - 6:2)

Likewise, Acts 15:14-18 runs:

'14 Simeon has related how God first looked favourably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name. 15 This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written, 16 "After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it up, 17 so that all other peoples may seek the Lord-- even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called."'

Gentile mission is presupposed upon the 'rebuilding of the dwelling of David', upon the 'gathering of Jacob', the 'raising up of the tribes of Jacob and restoration of the survivors of Israel'.

In other words: Exile –> Return –> Gentile Mission

Friday, February 01, 2008

Acts 1:8

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth"

For those of us in Pentecostal circles, Acts 1:8 is an important verse. It occurred to me today that Samaria, the capital of the old northern kingdom, could perhaps be understood as symbolic of the ten lost tribes in Acts.* After all, 'Jerusalem and all Judea' likely indicates the southern kingdom of Judah, and 'the ends of the earth' is an appropriate Gentilic scope of view that comes into sight, in the Prophets, only after the twelve tribes are restored.

Add to this Richard Bauckham's fascinating analysis of the significance of the nations mentioned at Pentecost in Acts 2:9-11 (cf. Bauckham, "The Restoration of Israel in Luke-Acts." In Restoration: Old Testament, Jewish and Christian Perspectives, edited by James M. Scott, 435–487. Leiden: Brill, 2001).

* My friend, Steve Walton, tells me that there is a discussion about this in Samkutty, Vanmelitharayil J., The Samaritan mission in Acts, London: T & T Clark, 2006


1) Kevin P. Edgecomb has done an amazingly thorough job with the Biblical Studies Carnival XXVI.

2) It is not often that I laugh aloud reading a biblio/theology blog. But Eric Sowell managed to get me laughing twice in just a few days. First he tells, er, me why I should read his blog – and thereby shows us all why he is a man of wisdom. Second, and Jim West will love this, he tells it like it really is when it comes to reading Zwingli on the one hand, and Wright on the other.

3) Doug Chaplin gets lippy!

4) Are there really hidden messages in some song segments if you listen to them backwards? My friend Robin sent me a link to this spooky site.

5) Fancy reading a bit of really sick doctrine? Of course you do. This webpage will tell you that not only is America mentioned in the Bible, but we learn that the Old Testaments Prophets wrote about America and that Jesus' kingdom parables describe America! Prepare for a few pages of some seriously wacked-up side flipped mangy dribbled nasty crap job stick mashed up disaster of exegesis.

Emerging in Germany

From numerous discussions I have had in the last few days, it appears that the 'emerging conversation' is finally starting to take off in southern Germany amongst Evangelicals. And one or two theology blogs are in the pipe-line to boot.

While I am not comfortable with the line of reasoning that runs 'Postmodernity, therefore...', my own experience of things emergent has been of a liberation into a reforming and healthy theological adventure. So all I can say about this news is 'Wonderful!'

I look forward to seeing what shape this 'conversation' will take in Germany. You can bet it will be different from that found in the States and the UK – at least I hope so, or something has gone wrong, and 'emergent' will have been understood amiss and simply McDonaldsised for mass consumption with an Anglo-American pre-package. That would be a pity.