Saturday, May 30, 2009

Quote of the day, or a public display of ignorance

At the end of an essay by Alain Badiou, 'The Transcendental' (in Badiou: Theoretical Writings), he writes that:

'[T]he equation ("The conjunction of the maximum and a degree is equal to this degree") is phenomenologically unimpeachable. But if this is indeed the case, the fact that the reverse of the supreme measurement of the maximum transcendental degree – is also the inapparent is itself a matter of course' (225-6)

Which leads to the punch line of the whole essay:

'It is thereby guaranteed that, in any transcendental whatsoever, the reverse of the maximum is the minimum' (226).

At which point, forehead wrinkled in depressed frustration, I put the book down and think 'what the hell does all of that verbal vomit mean?'. The 'reverse of the maximum is the minimum'? And that took a whole essay to figure?

The reverse of forwards is backwards, folks!

OK chumpy, here is good equation: 'the opposite of *&%llocks is something that makes sense, at least certainly after it has been slowly read more than four times' – surely also as 'phenomenologically unimpeachable' as it gets.

Please help me out, here! Anybody know of any 'obviously-utter-idiot-New-Testament-twit-and-out-of-his-domain' introductory books on Badiou?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Congratulations to Richard Bauckham

Phil Groom informed me this morning that Richard Bauckham has won the 2009 Michael Ramsey prize, for his brilliant book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.

Our warmest congrats to Richard, who, besides getting this honour, also pockets a prize of £15,000!

It was tough competition too: David Brown, God & Grace of Body: Sacrament in Ordinary; Richard Burridge, Imitating Jesus; Sebastian Moore, The Contagion of Jesus; and Anthony Thiselton, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Žižek book free online

Free is always an nice word when put next to 'book'.

Here you can have a read of How to Read Lacan (London: Granta Books, 2006). And anyone who has tried to get their head around Žižek will know how important Lacan is to his work. I'm hoping this will help me think through this talk of the 'grand Autre', 'objet petit a' and so on. Otherwise, reading Žižek it is possible to feel like you have stumbled into a conversation that started long before you arrived – and for a New Testament specialist that can be a real problem!

Two keys to unlock Romans

I’m presently writing a short commentary on Romans – the whole thing is just over 10,000 words! In my introduction, which cannot exceed more than 600 words, I have decided to highlight two key features which, in my view, are necessary to grasp what Romans is about. The first is not too controversial and involves the tension between Jew and Gentile in light of the return of Jews to Rome after the Edict of Claudius which temporarily expelled them. A lot in Romans, especially chapters 14 and 15, fits this situation perfectly and frames much of Paul’s concerns in the rest of the letter. The second is more controversial but equally important. To understand Romans one needs to understand the story of Israel in terms of the life, death and resurrection (here Kirk's thesis, is most helpful) of Jesus Christ – and vice verse. For example, the flow of thought in Romans 3 – from the question about God’s faithfulness and the problem of the unfaithfulness of the people of God, to the declaration in 3:21 that ‘now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets’ – can only be understood in terms of that story and Christ’s role in it.

Anyway, I thought I would share those two thoughts, especially given the need to educate all of you seething masses of dilettantes...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Improve your German with Heidegger and Wittgenstein

I've been enjoying a bit of Heidegger recently, and wanted to draw attention to this Youtube video of the man himself - in it he speaks slowly and deliberately, plus there are captions if you need help. Useful to dust off your German - alternatively, marry a German wife....

The second resource is the Blackwell 50th Anniversary edition of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, containing the German text on one page, and a revised English translation on the facing.

When I started to learn German, a slightly mislead colleague suggested, with utter seriousness, that I watch 'Allo 'allo, and try to sound like the acted Germans! So, for ‘correct’ pronunciation carefully study the following:

Monday, May 18, 2009


Our friend Ed Babinski sent this cartoon link along, which made me smile.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Beautiful and sexy

I recently started an absolutely fascinating book, namely David Brown's God & Grace of Body (Oxford: OUP, 2007). The title of this post is that of his first chapter, in which he begins the project of examining 'the ways in which bodies might open human beings up to the possibility of experiencing God or the divine through them' (11).

Having roomed with Jim West at the San Diego SBL, my first critical thought was, of course, "he has obviously never seen what I have seen!" – but then I turned to his fourth chapter, 'Wasted and Ugly', and waited for references to

But seriously, this is a very engaging and arguably important book, offering ways to expand our horizons on how we experience God. By the way, his chapter on dancing even discusses belly dancing! Interesting also was the link made, in an analysis of the dance of Martha Graham, between Jonathan Edwards' 'dogmatic denouncements' and the employment of an 'absolutely rigid upper body' in her movements.

It made me think: what sort of dance would best express my theology and faith?!

To get personal: What sort of dance would best express your own worldview, faith or theological tendencies?

As Rowan Williams wrote: this book opens doors 'into all sorts of fresh insight'.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Remonstration of the day

Arguably it makes little sense to qualify a postulated Pauline covenantal nomism on the basis of certain variety in the second Temple literature (cf. so-called variegated nomism) if it can be shown that:

  1. the evidence paints a typical – even if not uniform – covenantal nomist picture of second Temple Judaism
  2. the texts Paul typically drew upon can be better categorised as covenantal nomist.
  3. a covenantal backdrop to Paul is important*

On a) Has not Sanders already made the point? b) their shape and major themes (e.g. deliverance from Egypt before Sinai) would suggest so and c) is, I think, virtually certain. And the old sleight of hand, playing 'creation' against 'covenant' (in Paul or in second Temple texts), is a bizarre mistake.

However, Paul could of course develop new worlds; he was not bound to a second Temple Jewish covenantal nomism. So some may want to extract Paul from his context in an effort to save confessional face. But would this tactic be as readily employed for other areas of Paul's theology? For example, surely all conservatives would want to (correctly) emphasise Jewish modes of thinking when it comes to elucidating his Christology over against the mistakes of the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule...

* This point needs to be developed, of course, but hey ho - this is only a blog post.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Rowan Williams lecture

Recently, St Paul's Theological Centre had the privilege of hosting Archbishop Rowan Williams on the Saturday School of Theology. He spoke on John's Gospel and the talk can be downloaded here. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Jim had a dream from which he reluctantly awoke

And sadly realised that the man in the leotard was not Zwingli, nor real.

Thought of the day

I was reading the other day how C.S. Peirce called himself a 'contrite fallibilist' because he recognised the provisional nature of all human scientific knowledge. And it occurred to me: what a great way to describe other NT scholars and theologians.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Provocative quotations of the Day

The first is from Slavoj Žižek, The Parallax View, London: MIT Press, 2006, p. 256, italics his:

'[T]oday's Zionism itself, as embodied in the State of Israel's predominant politics, is already "anti-Semitic", that is to say, it relies on anti-Semitic ideological mapping. Remember the typical newspaper caricature of Yassir Arafat: the rounded face with its big nose and thick lips, on a small rounded clumsy body ... looks familiar? No wonder: it is the old cliché drawing of the corrupt Jew from the 1930s! Another confirmation of the fact that Zionism is a species of anti-Semitism'.

I wonder if he perhaps oversimplifies matters, but this jarring (at least for me) statement certainly deserves pondering.

The second cheery number comes from a bland A2 poster on the window of a (very) conservative Christian bookshop not far from where I live:

'Be sure your sin will find you out!'

And that's all that is said! No, 'and believe in Jesus' or something that could be called Christian. Just an A2 sized wagging finger. They also had, for good measure, a 'Repent ye' poster – note the important and anointed King James English 'ye'. We will leave the fact that this statement, from Numbers 32:23, was made in the context of an explicit communal covenant with God, one that, Ephesians Paul would say, Gentiles 'without God and without hope in the world' do not share.

Maybe it is me, but I feel such a statement suggests a final word, one that seems to capture the tone of its proposal: 'Be sure your sin will find you out, bitches!' I wonder what they think they are achieving with such messages? Perhaps (a few) people really do respond well to that kind of talk? More likely, perhaps more people did once upon a time hear themselves addressed by such language, but it is reused in today's world more as a matter of pious religious duty. Yet sadly it probably relies more on 19th century 'ideological mapping' and older clichés, which simply make the A2 message predominantly a species of rudeness. The actual message of the poster is more than the sum of its words. Likewise, the Arafat pictures are more than just caricature; they potentially echo something far more sinister.

Alain Badiou on Youtube

A BBC HARDtalk interview in three parts (1, 2, 3)

Some of you may know that Badiou (how is that correctly pronounced, by the way?) has written a book relating to the Apostle Paul (Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism). Not far into that one yet, but it is odd to read my man Paul in the hands of this famous French atheist 'screaming leftie' philosopher. When I last read around the world of 'modern continental philosophy', Derrida, Luce Irigaray and such like were all the rage. Having only recently picked up works by Badiou (and Slavoj Žižek), I realise I have a lot to learn!

Actually, as I’ve mentioned the compulsively nose-wiping Žižek (one Youtube comment runs: “Check out his sexy deep-v. He can wipe his nose all over me”!), do check out this series of 2007 videos entitled “Slavoj Zizek. Materialism and Theology”. Clearly a brilliant mind flavoured with humour and deep insight, I look forward to engaging with his work in more depth. For those less interested in grappling with his dialectical materialism, do at least listen to enjoy the way he pronounces “mysticism” – something like mish-ti-shish-em! Well, Anja and I thought it was funny.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Greek: A Language in Evolution - An International Symposium in Honor of Antonios N. Jannaris

From the 14-17 June, 2009 at St Andrews University, Scotland. It is organized by the key expert himself, Chrys Caragounis.

Do click here for more information, including the symposium program. With fifteen international scholars coming to St Andrew, all experts in the various periods of the Greek Language, this is not one to miss.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Three tips for studying the New Testament (for beginners)

Not necessarily the most important nor in order of importance:
  1. Purchase a couple of NT Introduction books and make sure that they represent two different perspectives. For example, you could try the Carson & Moo volume, An Introduction to the New testament (conservative evangelical - inerrancy, Peter wrote 2 Peter-or-our-faith-is-in-vain sort). But if you get that one also purchase David deSilva's volume of the same title (moderate evangelical - wouldn't want to cause offence sort) or even try Raymond E. Brown's equally imaginatively titled book, An Introduction to the New testament (foaming mouthed Catholic with a liberal bent sort).
  2. This will sound trite but is more important than anything else that could be said here: read the New Testament! An old German NT scholar, Adolf Schlatter, used to say that people tend to miss what is right in front of their eyes (the NT!). It is best to start there before darting to commentaries, word studies, pseudepigraphal parallels etc. Prayerfully read the NT of course, but don't just get hung up in holy meditation on your favourite verse. Also read thinkfully! I believe God loves it when we seek to love him with all our minds.
  3. Start to learn the habit of enjoying NT related books that are more informed about matters of exegesis, historical background, hermeneutical subtelty etc. Have a look at catalogues of such publishinghouses as, e.g., T & T Clark, Eerdmans, Hendrickson, IVP Academic, Paternoster, SPCK, Baylor, WJK, etc.

So many more points could be added. But what other tips would you offer (for beginners)?