Thursday, June 29, 2006

Quiz for Skeptics at Tekton

I took this Quiz for Skeptics at the Tekton evangelical site and tested as an open-minded skeptic, apparently in contrast to most infidels who take it. Whether or not I'm ripe for conversion, as these charitable folks seem to think, is another issue. But it's fun business, and I was pleased to see Dick Rohrbaugh acknowledged as a good guy in one of the questions.

Here are my answers. The A answers earn you 1 point, B 2 points, C 3 points, and D 10 points. Obviously the D answers are correct from Tekton's point of view. I answered 27/43 questions with an unqualified D.

(See also Peter Kirby's answers.)

UPDATE: Chris Heard, though a believer, answers some of the questions.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Limited Edition Lord of the Rings DVDs

Thanks to Jacob from the newly launched Grey Havens for mentioning an upcoming treat:

"Three Lord of the Rings Limited Edition sets, one for each movie, will hit store shelves on August 29. Each two-disc set will include the original theatrical and the extended versions of the film, along with Costa Botes' feature-length documentary on each film's creation... How can they do this? By using a 'branching' format that gives you a visual cue to view an extended scene if you want to while you're watching the film."

Like Jake, I can't understand why anyone would want to watch the inferior theatrical versions. And the visual cues will end up wrecking the viewer's experience in any case. Still, as a hard-core fan I'll be getting these for the documentaries alone, and even if this is a shameless way for New Line to make more money.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Dishonest Steward: "The Power of the Weak"

The parable of the Dishonest Steward (Lk 16:1-8a) is known for being the most difficult parable in the gospels. How does one make sense of a master who commends dishonest behavior? Luke implies the master is a cipher for God who forgives dishonesty beyond all human expectation, and many critics interpret similarly. But this ignores the glaring problem: God is being depicted as commending dishonesty (v. 8a), not forgiving it.

In the original parable (minus Luke's heavy-handed editorial in 16:8b-13), the master isn't a cipher for God. He's exactly as portrayed. The key to understanding his behavior is that, in the culture of honor and shame, the perception of a subordinate reflects directly on a superior. So when the steward is suddenly confronted by hostile charges -- that he has been "squandering his master's money" -- it is the master who's put on the spot. As David Landry and Ben May explain:
"It is not the steward who is on trial, but the master, and the court is the court of the opinion of the public and his peers. To save face and recover a measure of his honor, the master resolves immediately to dismiss the steward. Thereby he acquits himself of the charge of the inability to control his inferiors and recovers some of the loss of face." ("Honor Restored", p 4)
But is the steward actually guilty as charged? Landry and May think so: that he was irresponsible and misappropriated funds. But it could also be that he was taking too much "honest graft" for himself, so that peasants suffered and retaliated by spreading false rumors about him. That's what William Herzog thinks.

If the latter -- and I prefer this, since it gives the story a more suggestive thrust -- then the slander needs to be seen in terms of what James Scott calls the "weapons of the weak": everyday forms of peasant resistance like "foot dragging, dissimulation, false compliance, pilfering, feigned ignorance, slander, and sabotage" (Weapons of the Weak, p 29; followed by Herzog in Parables as Subversive Speech, p 252). In agrarian societies such covert tactics are used by the powerless in the face of forced labor, high taxes, rents, loans, and interest. Weapons of the weak can be very effective, especially for not subjecting people to the dangers of open revolt. In this parable, the off-stage peasants use malicious slander or gossip to put the steward on the defensive, throw him off balance, and cause his master to banish him.

But after being banished the steward turns to his own counter-tactics. Knowing he is under attack, he reduces the debtors' contracts, not removing his own "honest graft" (that was always taken off the record anyway), but cutting directly into the master's profit. What does he hope to gain by this? Revenge? Not at all. The question is not what he hopes to gain by cheating the master, but what he hopes to gain by being generous to the peasants. Landry/May again:
"When the steward decides to forgive a portion of the amount owed by his master's debtors, he is not trying to 'get even' or to defraud his master to win favor for himself; he is trying desperately to get out of trouble any way that he can. While this seems at odds with appearances, and certainly with the standard scholarly interpretations of the parable, it squares with what we know about human behavior. The first impulse for many people when they discover that they are in deep trouble is to try to make up for the misdeed and thereby get themselves out of trouble." (p 9)
The steward saves his hide by making the debtors a fortune. Yes, the master has lost profit as a result. But if he insists on banishing the steward, it will blacken his reputation among the people who now favor the steward (and thus him) for lowering the bills. It's definitely in the master's best interest to keep the steward, since because of him he will now be hailed as a charitable benefactor. Honor is the greatest form of wealth in this culture.

So the steward really hasn't cheated his master. He has simply put new cards in the master's hand. The master commends him for acting shrewdly (phronimos; not "dishonestly"), not only because his hands are tied, but because he truly appreciates the steward's tactical strategy. The master has taken a short-term loss but will realize a long-term gain, on account of his new reputation as a benefactor. In the meanwhile, says Herzog,
"Out of this battle comes a temporary respite for the peasants, a glimpse of time when debts would be lowered, and a place where rejoicing could be heard. This may not be a parable about the reign of God, but it suggests how weapons of the weak can produce results in a world dominated by the strong." (p 258)


Bibliography

Herzog, William: Parables as Subversive Speech, Westminster/John Knox, 1994.

Landry, David & May, Ben: "Honor Restored: New Light on the Parable of the Prudent Steward".

Scott, James: Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance, Yale University, 1985.


The complete series

The Prodigal Son
The Unmerciful Servant
The Mustard Seed
The Talents
The Dishonest Steward

Questions About Blogging

Mark Goodacre responds to Francis Ward's questions about blogging. Since Francis is apparently looking for many responses, I'll take a stab at them.

1. How long have you been blogging?

Since July 11, 2005.

2. What got you started?

Other bloggers inspired me, most notably Mark Goodacre (NT Gateway), Stephen Carlson (Hypotyposeis), and Michael Turton (The Sword; now dead). I thought blogging would be a good way to keep sharp in the biblical field (since I'm an amateur), and get across some ideas that have been coalescing for years now.

3. Do you have a history of diary/journal/log writing beforehand?

No. My previous writing energies went into fiction, reviewing, and list-serve activity.

4. How in your own mind do you negotiate the boundary between private and public? E.g. are there things that you would not put on your blog that you would put in a journal?

The focus of this blog is on Christian origins, with sub-topics including J.R.R. Tolkien and evolutionary theory. I do some film review too, and I have an abiding interest in the medieval crusades. Occasionally I relate personal things for a little variety (and humanity) but prefer not to do much of this. I expect most of my readers will be checking in for the regular blog topics.

5. How do you decide? What criteria do you use for inclusion/exclusion?

Anything related to the academic study of the bible, Tolkien, the medieval crusades, and evolutionary psychology are fair game.

6. How much time, on average, do you spend blogging each day or week?

As of today the blog has 297 posts to its name. So I've averaged 5-6 posts a week since I started.

7. How many other people do you actively engage with – e.g. are part of your blog community?

Too many to count these days. See my blogroll and Wason & West's biblioblogs.com.

8. Who is your readership – literally; as far as you know?

Regular readers of this blog include professional scholars, independent scholars, amateur exegetes, and friends who don't study the bible much themselves but are interested in what academics have to say about it.

9. and metaphorically? Do you imagine someone to whom you write/with
whom you engage?


I want to accommodate all my readers (see 8. above). So I try not to pitch too high or too low, and also keep most of the posts brief and concise to engage everyone's interest.

10. What counts as successful blogging?

(1) When readers keep coming back. (2) When they resent you not blogging. (3) When others in your particular blog community value your insights, link to you, etc. (How successful I am by these yardsticks I'm not entirely sure.)

11. What does blogging offer as a method of theological reflection?

I don't normally do that kind of thing on this blog.

12. What potential do you see for blogging as a method of theological reflection?

N/A

13. Do you know of examples of theological education programmes where students are required to keep a learning journal and blog as a form of journal?

No.

14. Blogging and gender: do you think gender makes any difference to
any of the above questions?


Yes.

UPDATE: Rick Brannan, Michael Barber, Pete Phillips, Stephen Carlson, Sean Winter, and Chris Weimer provide answers.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Talents: "The Fate of an Unlikely Hero"

The parable of the Talents (Mt 25:14-28) is about a servant who acts honorably by burying money given in trust, courageously by denouncing an exploitive master, and as a result is consigned to extinction for his audacity.

Most people understand the story as Matthew has (cf. Lk 19:12-24). But his concluding editorial, "To all those who have, more will be given, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away" is at odds with everything else Jesus says on the subject of haves and have-nots (Mk 10:25/Mt 19:24/Lk 18:25; Mt 6:19-21/Lk 12:33-34; Mt 19:30; Mt 20:16; Lk 6:24; Lk 16:19-31); and Jesus was obviously no capitalist. Matthew's editorial implies that the first two servants are the heroes of the story, which Jewish peasants would have found outrageous.(1)

As Richard Rohrbaugh and William Herzog have demonstrated -- though in very different ways, as we will see -- the third servant is the hero of this parable, because he acted honorably and refused to participate in the rapacious schemes of the master. Contrast with the agenda of the first two servants:
"First things first: the master's initial investment must be secured, then doubled; after that, the retainers can make their profit. They are always walking a tightrope, keeping the master's gain high enough to appease his greed and not incur his wrath while keeping their own accumulations of wealth small enough not to arouse suspicion yet lucrative enough to insure their future. The master knows the system too, and as long as the retainers keep watch of his interests and maintain a proper yield, he does not begrudge their gains. In fact, he stands to gain a great deal by encouraging the process. Not only do the retainers do his dirty work, exploiting others for profit, but they siphon off anger that would otherwise be directed at him." (Herzog, Parables as Subversive Speech, p 160)
The first two servants do exactly as expected of them, doubling the master's money and presumably making some "honest graft" on the side, as all retainers did in agrarian empires. But the third servant acts completely out of character -- this alone is the tip-off that he will be the story's hero -- by digging a hole and burying the master's money to keep it intact, acting in accordance with Jewish law.(2)

When the master (naturally) rewards the two servants, the third servant acts stunningly by blowing the whistle on him (as Herzog puts it), while at the same time giving him back the money he had buried in trust: "Master, I know that you are a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, gathering where you did not scatter." This retainer says what every peasant has always wanted to say.

An alternate version of this parable was preserved in the Gospel of the Nazorenes (now lost), reported by Eusebius. Here the third servant is accepted with joy, while the other two are condemned. In "A Peasant Reading of the Talents/Pounds", Rohrbaugh notes the chiastic structure:

The master had three servants:

A one who squandered his master’s substance with harlots and flute girls
B one who multiplied the gain
C and one who hid the talent;

and accordingly,

C’ one was accepted with joy
B’ another merely rebuked
A’ and another cast into prison.


(Eusebius, Theophania; from Hennecke & Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha 1:149)

Though I'm eternally suspicious of arguments based on chiastic structures, this one is powerful. Here we have an ancient author who rejected the Matthean judgment on the third servant, while modern critics insist on vilifying him.

Like many of Jesus' parables, the Talents ends on dark ambiguity. "The whistle-blower is no fool," says Herzog. "He realizes that he will pay a price, but he has decided to accept the cost (p 167)." The question is who his friends are after banishment. Will peasants acknowledge and respect his honorable course of action, or would the fact that he was a retainer make such meeting of the minds impossible? Listeners are left pondering the fate of an unlikely hero.


Endnotes

1. The ways in which critics have followed Matthew's (and Luke's) demonizing of the third servant are astounding. C.H. Dodd thinks that the third servant's "overcaution" and "cowardice" led to a breach in trust. T.W. Manson believes that the punishment for the third servant's "neglected opportunity" was a complete "deprivation of opportunity". Dan Via says the third servant's "refusal to take risks" led to repressed guilt and the loss of opportunity for any meaningful existence. John Donahue thinks that out of "fear of failing", the third servant refused even to try to succeed. The list could go on and on. (See Herzog, p 153.)

2. According to the Mishnah, money could be guarded honorably only by placing it in the earth: M.B. Mes. 3:10; B.B. Mes. 42a.

Bibliography

Eusebius: Theophania (from Hennecke & Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha, Westminster, 1963.)

Herzog, William: Parables as Subversive Speech, Westminster John Knox, 1994.

Malina, Bruce & Rohrbaugh, Richard: Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, Second Edition, Augsburg Fortress, 2003.

Rohrbaugh, Richard: "A Peasant Reading of the Talents/Pounds: A Text of Terror", BTB 23:32-39, 1993.


The complete series

The Prodigal Son
The Unmerciful Servant
The Mustard Seed
The Talents
The Dishonest Steward

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A Sense of Humor

The recent issue of Psychology Today (July/August '06, pp 76-77) has a test for determining your sense of humor. The four types listed are (1) put-down, (2) bonding, (3) hate-me, and (4) laughing-at-life.

(1) Put-down humor is used "to criticize and manipulate others through teasing, sarcasm, and ridicule", which can be harmless enough if used sparingly. In heavy or nasty doses it becomes "a socially acceptable way to deploy aggression and make others look bad so you look good". (examples: Eddie Murphy, George Carlin)

(2) Bonding humor "gives humor a good name", used "to reduce tension in uncomfortable situations". This is good-natured humor used by warm and kind people. (examples: Ellen DeGeneres, Rosie O'Donnell)

(3) Hate-me humor is "often deployed by people eager to ingratiate themselves" and who enjoy being clowns. Small doses are charming, but heavy doses can erode self-respect. (examples: Chris Farley, Rodney Dangerfield)

(4) Laughing-at-life humor involves a wry perspective used "to cope with challenges" and take a step back by laughing at the absurdities of everyday life. People like this have a positive outlook, and tend to be healthy in general because of it. (examples: Dave Barry, Bill Cosby)

The test scores you in each category:

18-28 is HIGH
11-17 is AVERAGE
0-10 is LOW

Here's how I turned out:

Put-down: HIGH (24)
Bonding: LOW (3)
Hate-me: LOW (10)
Laughing-at-life: LOW (6)

So according to these graders I'm fairly humorless, save on the put-down front. That would explain my distaste for comedy films, with the glaring exception of hard-core yelling/screaming satire like All in the Family (which I still can't get enough of on DVD).

One of my colleagues firmly diagnosed me before I took this test (a not-so-subtle hint about put-downs and insults, however playfully intended), and my results are pretty accurate as far as they go. But I think there are special categories which go unacknowledged here. My humor goes beyond put-downs, but it's rather off-beat humor which gratifies me in weird ways. So these results are only part of the story.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Mustard Seed: "A Kingdom for the Unclean and Disorderly"

Unlike most parables in the gospels, the Mustard Seed (Mk 4:30-32/Mt 13:31-32/Lk 13:18-19/Thom 20) is an actual metaphor for the kingdom of God. Jesus likens the kingdom to a mustard shrub to which birds flock and make nests in the shade of its branches, mocking, in effect, the cedar of Lebanon (Ezek 17:22-24, 31:5-6; Dan 4:10-12; Ps 104:10-17). What do we make of a mustard shrub that has pretensions to such grandeur? Before answering this we need to address discrepancies regarding (1) where the mustard seed is planted and (2) what it grows into.

Where is the seed planted?

There's no agreement where the mustard seed is planted. In Mark it is "on the land"; Matthew "in a field"; Luke "in a garden"; and Thomas "on tilled soil". Mark and Luke have claims to earliest tradition on this point. Brandon Scott prefers the latter, since the planting of mustard seed in a garden was forbidden in Jewish Palestine (Mishnah Kilayim 3:2), pointing to subversive originality (Hear Then the Parable, p 376). On the other hand, as he acknowledges in the same breath, Luke could have been simply conforming to Roman/urban custom, as he often does (as in Lk 5:19, altered from Mk 2:4). Matthew's "in the field" is clearly his own stereotyped phrase (see Mt 13:36, 13:44, 24:18, 24:40), and Thomas' "tilled soil" is a late idiosyncrasy. William Herzog rightly goes with Mark:
"The seed is sown 'on the land', a reference to the Promised Land... Although this image is preferable to the 'garden' image in Luke, it is possible to read the reference to the garden as an image of the land as a new Eden, in which case the two variants are not so far apart as they seem." (Jesus, Justice, and the Reign of God, p 206)
That's a nice way of accommodating Luke "just in case", but it seems safe to view his garden as much a product of evangelical redaction as Matthew's field.(1)

What does the seed grow into?

In Mark's version the mustard seed culminates in "the greatest of shrubs"; in Matthew it grows into "the greatest of shrubs" and then "a tree"; in Luke it grows right into "a tree"; and in Thomas it ends in "a great plant". Matthew and Luke's versions are inappropriate, since a mustard shrub obviously isn't a tree. Mark has it right (Thomas offers a variant), but the question presses: how do we make sense of a shrub that has pretensions to be a tree in two gospels?

The myth originally undermined by Jesus (in Mark) and gradually reclaimed (halfway by Matthew, completely by Luke) is the cedar of Lebanon, an eschatological metaphor for Israel (Ezek 17:22-24, 31:5-6; Dan 4:10-12; Ps 104:10-17) depicting nations humbled in her presence, beasts taking shade under the limbs, birds nesting in the branches. Jesus' mustard shrub is a burlesque, a deliberate mockery of the cedar, though reincarnated into more holiness (the tree) by the time of Matthew and Luke.(2) As Scott explains it, "even though Jesus' parables play against common wisdom, in the end common wisdom frequently wins, removing the parable's fangs" (Hear Then the Parable, p 67).

What's the meaning?

Despite Matthew and Luke's attempts to sanitize, mustard seed is a sacrilegious metaphor for the kingdom, representing uncleanliness and disorder. As Herzog summarizes:
"Once sown, it spreads like a weed, causing havoc on the ordered garden of the land. It also throws purity boundaries into confusion precisely because it spreads indiscriminately, thereby violating the prohibition against planting two kinds of seed in the same field (Lev 19:19; Deut 22:9). The mustard shrub becomes an agent of confusion and source of uncleanliness. The goal of sowing is not to turn it into something it isn't (a tree) but to maximize what it is (a ubiquitous shrub), a force to be reckoned with. Like the land itself, the purpose of the shrub is to provide for others, the birds of the air." (Jesus, Justice, and the Reign of God, p 206)
But Herzog marginalizes the future aspect of the kingdom -- and Scott erases it altogether, saying that because "God's mighty works are among the unclean and insignificant" the kingdom "will not meet grandiose expectations" (Hear Then the Parable, p 387). Like most members of the Jesus Seminar, Scott thinks Jesus preached a purely sappiential (here-and-now) kingdom of God. But the mustard shrub points to the apocalypse as much as the cedar of Lebanon. The fact that Jesus' kingdom consists of low-lives doesn't mean it will never meet grandiose expectations, only that it will meet grandiose expectations in surprising ways -- the "reversal of fortunes" manner characteristic of millenial movements.

Like all of Jesus' vulgarities (the Leaven, the Tares), the Mustard Shrub suggests a kingdom of pollution and impurity in which sinners will be vindicated.


Endnotes

1. The Farrer theory makes best sense of the movement assumed here. On Scott's assumption that "garden" is the original, the two-source theory offers the better explanation; but see further.

2. On the two-source theory, we're stuck with "tree" in the earliest source (Luke/Q) instead of the latest. That's what Scott thinks: "The Q tradition clearly saw the reference [to the cedar of Lebanon], and so the shrub became a tree, and Thomas and Mark sense the dilemma and refer to the great and the greatest." (Hear Then the Parable, pp 385-386) Why would the earliest source "clearly see the reference" and sanitize so heavily, but not later sources? Once again, the Farrer theory makes good chronological sense: the movement from "shrub" to "shrub/tree" to "tree" (Mark to Matthew to Luke) shows the Christian movement becoming increasingly clean over time, as all millenial movements do when the apocalypse doesn't come.

Bibliography

Herzog, William: Jesus, Justice, and the Reign of God, Westminster/John Knox, 2000.

Oakman, Douglas: Jesus and the Economic Questions of His Day, Edwin Mellen, 1987.

Scott, Bernard Brandon: Hear Then the Parable, Augsburg Fortress, 1989.


The complete series

The Prodigal Son
The Unmerciful Servant
The Mustard Seed
The Talents
The Dishonest Steward

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Unmerciful Servant: "What if the Messiah Came and Nothing Changed?"

The parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Mt 18:23-34) is about a king who forgives an astronomical debt only to revoke his decision in a fury. He waves the incredible amount of 10,000 talents (one talent equaled 6000 denarii, or 6000 days worth of work for a peasant) for a servant, but when that servant throws a fellow servant into prison for owing him only 100 denarii, the king does an about-face, furious, handing the unmerciful servant over to the torturers.

Most people understand the story as Matthew has. His concluding editorial, "So my Heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother" (18:35), illustrates the account immediately preceding the parable (18:21-22). In 18:21 Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive a sinning member of the church -- "as many as seven times"? -- to which Jesus replies that Peter should forgive not seven times, but seventy-seven times (18:22). Then he tells the parable to illustrate this principle of forgiveness (?!). But it doesn't do this. Taking 18:21-35 as a whole, we have a God who tells people to forgive people seventy-seven times but (as the king) nails the servant after his first failure. As with other parables in the gospels, the evangelist's use stands in tension with the story itself.

We thus need to bracket off Matthew's editorial at the beginning, "The kingdom of God may be compared to..." If the king is really a cipher for God, then the story is bad news. According to William Herzog, the king is an implied messiah, a royal pretender like Judas of Galilee, Simon of Perea, or Athronges of Judea, but one who has actually led a successful revolt against the Romans and Judean elite. The tip-off comes at the beginning, with the impossibly high figure of 10,000 talents:
"The opening scene of the parable depicts a messianic moment... If the largest amount of debt imaginable has been cancelled, then the messianic king has arrived and the messianic age has begun. It is the fulfillment of sabbatical and jubilee hopes condensed into a moment. But the moment is short-lived. No sooner has the new age of debt forgiveness been inaugurated than it is cancelled by the cuthroat tactics of a typical powerful bureaucrat. In light of the servant's subsequent action, the king looks like a fool, or worse yet, like a weak and gullible ruler without power over the behavior of his subjects. Backed into a corner, the king reverts with a vengeance to business as usual, delivering the courtier to the torturers." (Parables as Subversive Speech, p 147)
The parable's point, says Herzog, is that reliance on a king for rescue from debt and bondage contains a hidden contradiction. Kingship involves a bureaucratic system on which it depends for survival, and such institutions are incompatible with the kingdom of God. No sooner would a messianic movement succeed in overthrowing oppressors than it would begin to take on the role of an oppressor itself. Look at Solomon. Look at Omri. Look at the king in this parable.

Contra Herzog, however, this doesn't mean that Jesus rejected messiahship per se, only a particular kind. In his sequel-study he says:
"The parable of the Unmerciful Servant [is] a rejection of the messianic ideal, because any messiah who did ascend the throne would be caught in the systemic realities of kingship in agrarian societies and aristocratic empires. Every king is captive of kingship, including the messiah! The short history of the Hasmonean dynasty could be invoked to make the same point." (Jesus, Justice, and the Reign of God, p 239)
But what exactly is "the messianic ideal"? Jesus intended, after all, to set disciples on thrones in the kingdom (Mt 19:28/Lk 22:29-30), and his own messianic claim may have been more a viceroy title, as Ed Sanders has suggested. Messiahship was fluid in the first century: warrior-kings were one kind (if the most popular) alongside prophetic, priestly, and heavenly arch-angel paradigms (on which see John Collins' excellent The Scepter and the Star). Jesus could have been a prophetic messiah if not a kingly one.

That Jesus rejected popular kingship is indicated from an account like Jn 6:15: "When Jesus realized that the five thousand people were about to come and make him king, he withdrew into the mountain by himself". We can imagine that hereafter, when done healing the sick and feeding the hungry, he had the story of the Unmerciful Servant in reserve for enthusiasts who would make him another Saul or David. Jesus may have claimed to be Israel's messiah (and against Herzog, I think he did), but he wasn't the warrior-messiah found in examples of Judas, Simon, and Athronges -- the kind most people wanted him to be.

Perhaps this parable would have been better used by John after 6:1-15 than by Matthew after 18:21-22, even if parables are out of place in the fourth gospel.


Bibliography

Collins, John J: The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature, Doubleday, 1995.

Herzog, William: Parables as Subversive Speech and Jesus, Justice, and the Reign of God, Westminster John Knox (both), 1994 and 2000 respectively.

Horsley, Richard: Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs: Popular Movements in the Time of Jesus, Trinity Press, 1985.


The complete series

The Prodigal Son
The Unmerciful Servant
The Mustard Seed
The Talents
The Dishonest Steward

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Jew or Judean?

Related to Mark Goodacre's concern about pluralizing the word "Judaism" is the proper translation for Ioudaios itself. While I agree with Mark that taking pains to pluralize (so as to underscore diversity) is over-cautious, the question of whether we should speak of Jew/Judaism or Judean/Judahism remains an important one.

There are good and bad reasons for preferring the latter, but I think good wins out. Properly speaking, Jews refer to the adherents of beliefs and practices associated with the Mishnah rather than the temple cult of Judea. Only by the third century had a Jewish religion really emerged, or a common pattern of religion irrespective of locale. The predecessors of the Jews, the Judeans, were localized and provincial, with a very different pattern of religion based on the temple cult. Given that the temple's destruction in 70 CE was "the ancient world's equivalent of a nuclear explosion" (Donald Akenson, Saint Saul, p 62) -- forever changing the religion of the chosen people -- we should take seriously distinguishing between Judeans and later Jews.

"Judean" (Ioudaios) is an admittedly slippery term; K.C. Hanson and Douglas Oakman list five possible meanings depending on context: (1) the inhabitants of Judah, distinct from Galilee, Samaria, Perea, Idumea, etc; (2) all the inhabitants of Palestine, including Galilee, Samaria, Perea, Idumea, etc; (3) all those in the Mediterranean and Middle-East with ethnic connections to Judah; (4) all those professing allegiance to the state religion of Judah (even if converts); (5) the elites of Judah (as opposed to peasants). (See Palestine in the Time of Jesus, p 176)

It's the relationship between (1) and (2) which mostly concerns us here. I think scholars will continue to resist using "Judean" for Ioudaios simply because it's covenient in English to have two words -- "Judean" for those only who lived in Judea (1), "Jews" for everyone (2, 3, and/or 4). But as Philip Esler says, our convenience is besides the point, when we have a first-century historian himself who resists such covenience. Citing Josephus' War 2:43, Esler says:
"In a context where it is necessary to refer to both groups, Jospehus does not designate the diaspora representatives by some other name [Galileans, Idumeans, Pereans, etc.] but invents a periphrasis to describe those who do live in Judea. Accordingly there is no justification for refusing to translate all representatives of this people as 'Judeans' just because some live in Judea. Rather, when referring to the latter group we should follow the example of Josephus and employ a periphrasis." (Conflict and Identity in Romans, pp 67-68)
Esler, however, offers another reason for preferring "Judeans" over "Jews", and one that leaves me cold:
"It is arguable that translating Ioudaioui as 'Jews' is not only intellectually indefensible...but also morally questionable. To honor the memory of these first-century people it is necessary to call them by a name that accords with their own sense of identity. 'Jews' does not suit this purpose, both because it fails to communicate the territorial relationship they had with the land of Judea and its temple and because it inevitably imposes on them associations derived from the troubled, indeed, often terrible history of the Jews. As long as the temple -- the sacred heart of the land and its chief attraction -- stood, and even between 70 CE and 135 CE when there was a hope that it might be rebuilt, 'Judeans' is the only apt rendering in English of Ioudaioui." (Ibid, p 68)
Well...yes and no. The territorial relationship the chosen people had with the temple is important for historical reasons, and with historical precedents (as the Josephus passage indicates), but not because inaccurate terminology becomes somehow immoral or disrespectful. Frankly I think this idea is a bit ridiculous, and it obviously smacks of political correctness.

In sum, I do believe that "Judean" is the preferred term for Ioudaios as long as we're speaking of a time when the temple, or a realistic hope for its rebuilding, remained alive and well. Having just said that, I should say it's not an issue I feel compelled to crusade over -- and indeed I use "Jew", "Jewish", and "Judaism" all the time, not only as a lazy covenience, but especially when talking to laypeople. Until more scholars and bible translators follow suit, using the proper term will come across as confusing to some, and anal to many.

Tying this back to Mark Goodacre's initial concern, I agree with both him and Michael Bird that whatever term we use -- whether Jew/Judaism or Judean/Judahism -- we should eschew pluralizing the religion, because it gives the misleading impression that there were no common denominators holding the admittedly diverse Judean groups together.

UPDATE: Carl Conrad comments on the B-Greek mailing list. Thanks to Wayne Leman for the link.

UPDATE (II): Jack Elliott strengthens my convictions in his powerful essay "Jesus was neither a 'Jew' nor a 'Christian'".

Friday, June 16, 2006

Honor Thy Father

I might have completely forgotten about Father's Day this week-end if not for the reminder of a friend just now. That's ironic in light of yesterday’s blogpost about the prodigal son. A timely blogpost, as it turns out.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Prodigal Son: "A Dysfunctional Family and its Neighbors"

If there is an award to be given for the best interpretation of a parable, Richard Rohrbaugh earns it for the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32), a misnomer actually, since it isn't really about a prodigal son but rather a beleaguered father with two equally lousy sons. The essay is called "A Dysfunctional Family and its Neighbors", found in the collection edited by V. George Shillington, Jesus and His Parables. Rohrbaugh offers a reading that's so compelling you could believe he travelled back in time to mine the cultural cues, then came back and consulted a screenwriter to flesh out the story with them.

Most of us assume that the younger son is the star of the plot, the lone tragic figure who repents of his transgression to be forgiven by the father. The theological allegory then becomes obvious: God forgives repentant sinners. But "repentance" is never mentioned in the parable; the younger son comes home because he's hungry. The father is actually the story's main character, struggling (however foolishly) to reconcile everyone so that the family can survive. Rohrbaugh begins by noting that
"Much more is at stake here than losing and gaining an errant son, traumatic as that event would be. The well-being and future of an entire extended family is at stake. Its honor and place in the village, its social and economic networks, even its ability to call on neighbors in times of need are all at issue. If the family were to 'lose its place', no one would marry its sons or daughters, patrons would disappear, and the family would be excluded from the necessary economic and social relations. Families that do not maintain solidarity with neighbors are quickly in trouble." (Jesus and His Parables, p 149)
Why is such solidarity threatened? Because the family members, all of them, participate in an outrageous act. The younger son declares his father dead by asking for his share of his inheritance, and quitting home for the city (v. 12a). The older son, silently and without protest, takes his own share when the father divides the money between them (v. 12b). The father, incredibly, gives in to all of this, in a culture where inheritances are village as much as family property. Rohrbaugh continues:
"What kind of family is this? [Hearers] would be wondering if the family could even continue to function... More than internal family relations are at stake here. Even if this shameful episode took place in private, it would only be a short time before the whole village knew what happened... Village gossip networks are very effective in spreading stories about those who break the rules. What the shameful behavior of the father and his two sons would signal to other villagers, therefore, is the need to close ranks against this family quickly lest the contagion spread." (p 151)
When the younger son later decides to come home after squandering his wealth in the city, it's not because he's repentant, but because he's starving (v. 17). He's a classic case of unexperienced peasants who migrate to cities and blow all their money, left with little choice but to eat crow and come slinking home. If his father hasn't disowned him, he will at least beat him publicly, and plenty of villagers will want to do him harm too. In this light the father's reaction -- running to the son, and embracing and kissing him (v. 20) -- signals something unexpected:
"As Kenneth Bailey points out, in the Mediterranean old men do not run. It is not only shameful (ankles show), it also indicates lack of control. They certainly do not run to meet or welcome anyone, and especially not their children. But if an emergency exists, perhaps that is another matter. This makes sense of the unique Greek term used here [in v. 20]: dramon means to exert oneself to the limit of one's powers. It implies straining to the utmost. Obviously the father acts in this way because the boy is in trouble. The villagers would be angry and the father's 'compassion' is well placed... The embrace and kiss are not first of all signs of welcome, they are signs of protection." (p 156)
So the father hasn't disowned his son. He attempts reconciliation, without beatings, and shames himself in the process. But his next step is even more difficult: appeasing the villagers. He does this by throwing a party for them. As Bailey/Rohrbaugh note, the fact that a calf is slain (v. 23) (rather than a goat or sheep) means that the entire village is invited to the party (p 157). Indeed the calf is more for the villagers than the prodigal himself; it's a peace offering aimed at the community. And the music and dancing (in v. 25) shows that the father's gesture is successful: the villagers accept the son back into the community.

Or half-successful: the older son defies the father. As the eldest his proper role (as Bailey explains) is to stand barefoot at the door, greet all the guests, and supervise the entertainment. Instead he insults his father (and everyone present) by refusing to enter the house and accept the reconcilation. And once again, the father acts as one feebleminded, by begging instead of harshly ordering his son to comply (v. 28). But the eldest remains disloyal, even cooking up false accusations against his brother -- that he spent the money on harlots (v. 30) (the earlier part of the story said nothing about this). His resentment is obviously understandable -- his brother's waste of family money means that he will be the one supporting the father in old age, and probably the prodigal too (p 159) -- but his open disloyalty is intolerable. The parable ends with the father still faced by a challenge.

Conclusion

Why would Jesus have told such a story? Because, as Rohrbaugh says, it's something peasants could identify with and understand, "commending the valiant struggles of a beleaguered if foolish father" (p 163). The story affirms responsibility to both kin and village, even in the face of outrageous disloyalty. But it does so in a bizarre way: the father counters shamelessness (disloyalty) with shamelessness (foolishness) of his own. He could have gone the route of beating the prodigal to set an example, and railroading the elder for his insults. But he makes an ass and fool of himself on both accounts. Is this the sort of thing Paul had in mind by being a fool for the Lord (II Cor 11-12)?

Jesus' parable isn't the repentance/forgiveness story taught in modern Sunday schools. Neither is it an obtuse allegory of Israel's return from exile (Tom Wright), nor even an abstract metaphor for accepting all people (Brandon Scott). It's exactly what it describes. The key is to resist parallels between the father and God. As William Herzog would say, this isn't an "earthly story with a heavenly meaning, but an earthy story with a heavy meaning". In view of the imminent apocalypse, Jesus thought people were called to change their behavior radically, like this father, to become asses and fools for the sake of the kingdom.


Bibliography

Bailey, Kenneth: Peasant and Poet: A Literary Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke, Eerdmans, 1976.

Rohrbaugh, Richard: "A Dysfunctional Family and its Neighbors", in Jesus and His Parables (edited by V. George Shillington), T&T Clark, 1997, pp 141-164.


The complete series

The Prodigal Son
The Unmerciful Servant
The Mustard Seed
The Talents
The Dishonest Steward

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Those Peasant Parables

Over the next few weeks I'll be looking at some of Jesus' parables from a "peasant" point of view, or how the stories may have been heard in an agrarian society by non-elites. Context Group scholars have been the pioneers of this approach, particularly Richard Rohrbaugh, John Elliot, Douglas Oakman, and William Herzog.

While I disagree with attempts of these scholars to marginalize (or erase) apocalyptic dimensions to the parables, they're right about one thing: the parables weren't abstract existential or quasi-gnostic codes concerned with an individual's relationship to God, nor even literary constructs intended to tease people into open-minded "democratic" thinking. They had punch, and were prophetically critical of social horrors. As William Herzog puts it, they weren't "earthly stories with heavenly meanings, but earthy stories with heavy meanings, weighted down by an awareness of the workings of exploitation" (Parables as Subversive Speech, p 3). The parables may have hinted at implications about the coming kingdom of God, but -- aside from a few -- they weren't directly about the kingdom. They focused, as I see it, on the evils of the present age by way of contrast with the apocalypse.

I'll examine the following stories in a series of five posts:

1. The Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32)
2. The Unmerciful Servant (Mt 18:23-34)
3. The Mustard Seed (Mk 4:30-32/Mt 13:31-32/Lk 13:18-19/Thom 20)
4. The Talents (Mt 25:14-30)
5. The Dishonest Steward (Lk 16:1-8a)

As we will see, these are representative of the parable corpus in different ways.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The 25 Most Controversial Movies of all Time

This week's issue of Entertainment Weekly has a wonderful list of the 25 most controversial films of all time. These are movies which
"...get someone's goat without any studio goosing, whose incendiary elements can inspire an offended party to picket, call for a boycott, even pray for divine intervention. These can be important, progressive, taboo-shattering films -- or merely films that feature a lot of randy humping. They can also be films that are truly, objectively despicable. The good, the bad, and the ugly are all reflected in [this list]." (issue #882, 6/16/06, p 32)
Passion of the Christ came in at #1, with A Clockwork Orange a close second. Two films now in theaters -- Da Vinci Code and United 93 -- also find a place on the list. It's worth reading the article for concise explanations of the controversy behind each film.

I put Tomatometer ratings next to the films (red = fresh, green = rotten), and as you can see, most were actually well received by the critics. Only six are rotten tomatoes -- The Da Vinci Code the most rotten of all, not suprisingly.

1. The Passion of the Christ. 51%
2. A Clockwork Orange. 93%
3. Farenheit 9/11. 83%
4. Deep Throat. ?
5. JFK. 85%
6. The Last Temptation of Christ. 78%
7. The Birth of a Nation. 100%
8. Natural Born Killers. 53%
9. Last Tango in Paris. 84%
10. Baby Doll. 100%
11. The Message. ?
12. The Deer Hunter. 90%
13. The Da Vinci Code. 23%
14. The Warriors. 92%
15. Triumph of the Will. 100%
16. United 93. 90%
17. Freaks. 97%
18. I Am Curious (Yellow). 59%
19. Basic Instinct. 63%
20. Cannibal Holocaust. ?
21. Bonnie and Clyde. 96%
22. Do the Right Thing. 100%
23. Kids. 56%
24. Caligula. 35%
25. Aladdin. 88%

World Trade Center Film

For a detailed description of the first twenty minutes of Oliver Stone's World Trade Center see here. The reviewer offers his opinion:

"From what I saw here tonight, I have to say that Oliver Stone has certainly taken great care of the event so far (nothing sensationalistic or controversial in the first 20 minutes) and seems to be gearing the whole thing toward a more human story within the inconceivable horror that surrounded those buildings on that day… I wasn't sure if I wanted to see this movie before this screening, but when the 20 minutes were over, I really wanted to see the rest of it and not from a voyeuristic point of view, but because I believed that the story...would be somewhat required for myself, as a small, yet hopefully significant step into seeing some ray of light come out of that day so very dark. It will obviously be a personal decision that everyone would need to make for themselves, much like for United 93."

As I mentioned before, Oliver Stone appears to be cleaning up his act and getting back to decent filmmaking.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Chris Weimer on Elitist Hypocrisy

Chris Weimer thunders on the subject of professionals and amateurs. He covers a lot of ground, from who has the "right" to interpret the bible (everyone obviously), caricatures of atheists, elitist hypocrisy (some zingers here), and the value of contributions from specialists and non-specialists. It's nice to see so many bloggers weighing in on this question.

(See previous posts here and here.)

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Professionals and Amateurs (II)

Yesterday I thought Chris Heard said it best on the subject of professionals and amateurs interpreting the bible, and I still do. But there's another way of looking at the matter. Consider the parting remark of Duane Smith:

Am I qualified to interpret the Bible? I am not, certainly not if the ignorant are asking anything but the most trivial of questions. So why do I, from time to time, post my interpretation of various things related to the Bible on Abnormal Interests? Well, once in a while I delude myself into thinking I have something interesting to say. But, unless you, my reader, have the skills to critically evaluate what I say, you shouldn't pay too much attention to it.

Readers of The Busybody will recall my series on lying and deception (see the sidebar under "best posts"), in which the topic of self-deception was seen to play a stronger role than anyone likes to admit. Cognitive scientist David Livingstone Smith -- a leading professional on the subject if there ever was one -- said the following in an interview:

Right now I'm trying to sound as knowledgeable and impressive as I possibly can. I sort of convinced myself that I'm this great authority on lying. But really, I'm lying, in the sense that when we're interacting with others, we're always performing. So for this interview, I've been playing the role of an expert trying to impress you. There's deception involved. I, however, am aware of this effort. But plenty of people are not aware of their self-deception; they are narcissistic and have convinced themselves that they're the greatest thing since sliced bread. In fact, most people tend to believe their own lies.

Whether we're experts or amateurs, we love the sounds of our voices, especially our blog-voices, and especially if we're men. (That was one of my explanations for the dearth of female biblio-bloggers.) We naturally think we're right about things, even when we're not; that's what having opinions is about. It takes the passage of time and hindsight wisdom (and humility) to inform us otherwise. Back when I was a fledgling amateur, with only a few books by Bultmann, Kasemann, and Sanders under my belt, I felt equipped to take on the exegetical world. Time works wonders.

Chris Heard is correct. Sound biblical interpretation comes from diligent and honest work with the text over time, whether one is professional or amateur. But Duane Smith reminds us that even the best interpreters, professional and amateur, can be self-deceptive, and because of this readers need to use their critical faculties as much as the interpreters. To echo Duane: Don't trust anything I have to say, much as I want you to. Look into things yourself, and only then will you properly see that I'm always right. :)

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Professionals and Amateurs

Jim West's crusade against amateurs has prompted James Crossley, Tyler Williams, and Chris Heard each to weigh in on the question of credentials and creed.

They all make good points, but I honestly can't say it better than Chris Heard:

I do not believe that being professionally trained is necessary or sufficient to producing good biblical interpretation, and...I also do not believe that being a Jew or Christian is necessary or sufficient to producing good biblical interpretation... In my judgment, the ideal interpreter of the Bible is someone who is attentive to and honest with the text. The ideal interpreter of the Bible reads the text closely, works hard to understand it, and attempts to give a rigorous account of what is actually there. Professional training and religious commitment may contribute to or, in some cases, detract from these intellectual virtues, but they are not unique in doing so on either count.

As an amateur I've been studying the origins of Christianity for about sixteen years (since the fall of '90), but it took a while before I was prepared to engage comfortably with professionals on the internet (such as e-lists like XTalk and Corpus Paulinum); I've been doing that for about six years. So that's a decade of "getting a foothold", so to speak, and sifting through wheat and chaff -- and, as Chris implies, there's plenty of chaff in the professional field as much as the amateur.

If we're going to distinguish between professionals and amateurs, let's do so meaningfully and not meanly. The professional is equipped for the interpretive task through formal training (especially with languages), but what one does with that training is another matter. The amateur has less authority to stand on, but that doesn't stop one from being a good interpreter. (There are professionals I would take over amateurs, just as there are amateurs I would take over professionals.) The amateur should be conversant with professional literature, but none of this is dependent upon creed. It just doesn't matter whether one is Christian, Jewish, atheist or otherwise. What matters is that everyone listens to each other, because each is capable of spotting things others will miss. I've profited from the evangelical as much as the secular (and seen a fair share of nonsense from both), and would never condone insular thinking. We need our multitude of voices.

Thank goodness for professionals in the field; we'd be lost without them. But I'm also thankful for interpreters like Stephen Carlson, Rick Brannan, Peter Kirby -- and yes, even the now exiled Michael Turton -- those amateurs right there on our sidebars.

Christian Utopia, Christian Slavery

Two upcoming books from Augsburg Fortress caught my eye. First, Mary Ann Beavis' Jesus & Utopia: Looking for the Kingdom of God in the Roman World:

"Scholarship on the historical Jesus and, now, on the 'Jesus movement' generally divides into separate camps around two sticky questions: was Jesus an apocalyptic prophet and was the movement around him political, that is nationalistic or revolutionary? Mary Ann Beavis moves the study of the historical Jesus in a dramatic new direction as she highlights the context of ancient utopian thought and utopian communities, drawing particularly on the Essene community and Philo's discussion of the Therapeutae, and argues that only ancient utopian thought accounts for the lack of explicit political echoes in Jesus' message of the kingdom of God."

It will be interesting to see how Beavis teases out the relationship between utopian thought and politics (or lack thereof, as she seems to see it).

Also Jennifer Glancy's Slavery in Early Christianity:

"Glancy here situates early Christian slavery in its broader cultural setting, arguing that modern scholars have consistently underestimated the pervasive impact of slavery on the institutional structures, ideologies, and practices of the early churches - and upon the bodies of the enslaved. Her careful attention to the bodily experience of subjection and violation that constituted slavery makes this an indispensable book for anyone interested in slavery in early Christianity. Includes special chapters on Jesus and Paul."

Both of these are coming out in September according to the website, but October according to the catalog I received in the mail.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Omenous Blogposts: The "666"

There are some blogposts worth revisiting in view of today's date. See Ed Cook and Stephen Carlson for whether the right number is 666 or 616. In either case, they should have made a movie about Nero instead of Damien, not only because Caesar was the actual anti-Christ, but because the remake of The Omen got atrocious reviews.

Tolkien the Fascist?

Against my better judgment, I'm going to address the claims of someone who commented on my spoof audio commentary for Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films. Jonathan doesn't care for my sense of humor (I'm unapologetic), and he hates Tolkien's story, actually agreeing with what my commentary satirizes:
Lord of the Rings is outrageously conservative, sexist, and (above all else) anti-urban fascist. When Tolkien ranted about Hitler, he was protesting too much - because he was at war with the beast in himself... I'll never understand the 60s love affair with Tolkien. He wasn't an environmentalist (unfortunately), he was an anti-urban fascist. He stood for all the crap we hippies despise: Victorian virtue, national obligation, and Wagnerian racism. All this poison finds its way into Lord of the Rings.
Many feel this way. Neil Camberly describes the attitude of egalitarian critics who have attacked Lord of the Rings for being racist and fascist:
"The films are "fascist"... They hold up beauty as something inherently good, and ugliness as something inherently bad. Their heroes are strong men and women of honor, decency and moral character. The films glorify ethnic collectivism and nationalism, self-sacrifice on behalf of one's biological community, and courage in the face of overwhelming odds and overbearing evil. Like the 20th century's fascist philosopher-kings, Tolkien's kings spend little time taking votes from their nervous soldiers and citizens over whether their kingdoms should perish with honor or perish with each man desperately trying to save his own skin. But most of all, the films earn their "fascist" credentials by clearly delineating good and evil in the tradition of Western literature's great adventure stories."
But Tolkien was, if anything, an anarchist. This is what he wrote to his son Christopher in 1943:
"My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) -- or to 'unconstitutional' Monarchy. I would arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than the inanimate realm of England and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, rights nor mind); and after a chance of recantation, execute them if they remain obstinate!... Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so as to refer to people... The most improper job of any man, even saints, is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity." (Letter #52; bold mine)
Tolkien was no fascist. He railed against Hitler, not because he was "at war with the beast in himself" (as Jonathan preposterously puts it), but because he was at war with the corruption of the Germanic spirit. This is what he wrote to his son Michael in 1941:
"I have in this War a burning private grudge: against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler... Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble, northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true lights." (Letter #45)
Nazi-fascism was a perversion of the ancient pagan ethic to which Tolkien was drawn (despite his Catholicism). And it's that northern ethos which makes its way into Middle-Earth -- not a "Wagnerian racism" supposed by commenter Jonathan, nor any implied Hitlerism. Tolkien's themes are so simple that they sound trite when listed: courage in the face of hopeless odds, loyalty and friendship, love for nature, and doing good for goodness sake. In that light, I suppose it's easy to see why people misconstrue Lord of the Rings as fascist. Middle-Earth presents "fascism" -- if we could suppose it -- in an unfallen state, uncorrupted by tyranny and bigotry.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Sidebar Upgrade: Best Posts and Book Reviews

I've reorganized my sidebar and added two new sections. First, I moved the primitive archives to the very bottom, and previous posts (most recent ten) next to last. In the middle I added "best posts" and "book reviews". Ben Myers inspired me to do a best posts section, and I've written enough book reviews now that it's time to make them readily accessible.

For best posts I chose seven biblical-studies related, four Tolkien, two special, and one humor (that last isn't for the easily offended). For book reviews I have eleven so far. I'll continue to update these sections as time goes on.

Enjoy the new bells and whistles!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Biblical Studies Carnival VI

Don't miss the sixth Biblical Studies Carnival hosted by Ben Myers.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Why Christianity Happened

James Crossley has a book coming out in November, a secular approach to the origins of Christianity. Follow this link and scroll down to page 24 (of 49) for the blurb and endorsement from Maurice Casey. I'm anxious to read this, James.