Sunday, July 30, 2006

Favorite Films

Tyler Williams calls attention to 50 Fims to See Before You Die published by the Sunday Mail, noting that this list leaves much to be desired -- none, after all, overlap with his own list of 14 Essential Films for Theologians. I am rather nonplussed by this list myself, but that's no surprise. I have rather idiosyncratic tastes.

Here are my personal favorites: the 25 films I would take to the moon with me. I include Tomatometer ratings next to them. Only one of my picks (#11) is a rotten tomato, so I guess that says something for me.

1. Lord of the Rings. 95%
2. The Exorcist. 88%
3. Blue Velvet. 89%
4. Hard Candy. 66%
5. The Silence of the Lambs. 97%
6. The Wall. 71%
7. Seven. 84%
8. Pulp Fiction. 95%
9. Alien. 98%
10. Taxi Driver. 100%
11. Palindromes. 41%
12. Twelve Angry Men. 100%
13. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover. 93%
14. Mulholland Drive. 80%
15. Shadowlands. 95%
16. United 93. 90%
17. Requiem for a Dream. 77%
18. Heavenly Creatures. 93%
19. Eyes Wide Shut. 80%
20. Jesus of Montreal. 92%
21. Clerks. 86%
22. The Ice Storm. 79%
23. Pleasantville. 86%
24. Goodfellas. 98%
25. From Dusk Till Dawn. 61%

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Motives of Morton Smith

Don't miss Stephen Carlson's series on the motives of Morton Smith, in response to Scott Brown's "The Question of Motive in the Case against Morton Smith," JBL 125 (2006): 351-383. I'll post the links to new installments as they appear.

Part I: Carlson discusses the role of motive in criminal law (misunderstood by Brown), the distinction between motive and intent, and why, in any case, it's inappropriate to use criminal law standards to determine the authenticity of texts in historical criticism.

Part II: "The Gay Gospel Hypothesis". Brown devotes most of his attention to refuting this hypothesis instead of the two stronger ones that follow. Perhaps this is a rhetorical trick, meant to imply that skeptics of Secret Mark are homophobes.

Part III: "The Hoax Hypothesis". This is a good installment, focusing on Brown's "nonfeasance" as he fails to address the the jokes embedded in Secret Mark, and the arguments of Akenson and Carlson in general -- particularly Carlson's demonstration that the confessions in Secret Mark parallel an aspect of Coleman-Norton's denture joke.

Part IV: "The Hoax Hypothesis" (continued). Brown claims that Smith put too much effort into publishing Secret Mark for it to be a hoax. (I wonder what Brown would make of all the hours I wasted in my undergrad years composing prank letters to a friend, in place of studying and doing other productive things.)

Part V: "The Hoax Hypothesis" (continued). Brown claims that for someone who supposedly put so much effort into creating a hoax about a libertine Jesus, Smith almost never referred to his discovery in his subsequent articles about libertinism. But as Carlson says in his book, that just means Smith was smart enough not to become a victim of his own hoax.

Part VI: "The Controlled Experiment Hypothesis". Carlson: "Although I think that Smith could have well have been a little curious at the process in which Secret Mark was accepted, I agree, largely for the reasons canvassed by Brown, that [this] hypothesis is unlikely to be the primary or a major motivating reason behind Secret Mark."

Part VII: Carlson re-emphasizes the pitfall of comparing Secret Mark with Smith's subsequent writings instead of his prior ones.

Part VIII: Secret Mark has the "scale and depth" to qualify as a forgery done to support beliefs and opinions, the crucial factor for Anthony Grafton in Forgers and Critics.

Part IX: Carlson wraps up, emphasizing that circumstantial evidence is stronger in law than in popular misconception, and with a wonderfully rhetorical question: "If Brown had a devastating critique of my position, why didn't he share it in one of the most prestigious journals in the field when he had the chance?"

Thursday, July 27, 2006

One Book Meme

Chris Petersen tagged me in this book-meme thing, so here we go.

One book that changed your life:
Why We Lie, by David Livingstone Smith.

One book that you've read more than once:
Shogun, by James Clavell.

One book that you'd want on a desert island:
Lord of the Rings.

One book that made you laugh:
The Five Gospels, by the Jesus Seminar.

One book that made you cry:
Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay.

One book that you wish you had written:
Clement's Letter to Theodore and The Secret Gospel, both by Morton Smith.

One book that you wish had never been written:
The Bridges of Madison County, by Robert James Waller.

One book you are currently reading:
Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, by Philip Esler and Ronald Piper.

One book that you've been meaning to read:
Freedom Evolves, by Daniel Dennett.

One book that you wish had been written:
The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant -- and now, after 20 long years, my wish is being fulfilled!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Stephen Carlson cited by Esler & Piper

I have begun reading Philip Esler and Ronald Piper's Lazarus, Mary, and Martha and am very pleased to see that Stephen Carlson's Gospel Hoax is favorably cited. I wonder if this is the first scholarly book to acknowledge Stephen's work. If it is, then I'm doubly pleased, since Esler is one of my favorite NT scholars.

Here is the citation, from page 48:
"The 'Secret Gospel of Mark', allegedly discovered by Morton Smith in a letter attributed to Clement of Alexandria (c. 200 CE), also contains a revivification narrative. We mention this document here because others have brought it into the discussion. The recent study by S. C. Carlson suggests that this document was conceived as a modern hoax.(4) This document, purportedly to be located between Mark 10:34 and 35, describes how Jesus effected a revivification from the dead (at the request of his unnamed sister) of an unnamed wealthy young man in Bethany. The man is then said to 'love' Jesus. As Moody Smith notes, if this document were genuine, it could represent an earlier version of the Lazarus story or something very like it, since in John 11 Jesus in Bethany raises a man from the dead at the behest of his sisters. However, Carlson's analysis demonstrates that serious doubts now attend the likelihood that this tradition is authentic."
The footnote (4) says:
"See Carlson 2005, especially pp 68-71 and 81-86 with respect to the revivification story. For a defence of its authenticity, but based on a much narrower range of evidence than that considered by Carlson, see the recent article by Hedrick and Olympiou (2000). They argue for its authenticity on a number of grounds, but especially in reliance on colour photographs of the letter of Clement taken after Smith's visit by the then librarian of the library where the document was supposedly found. Carlson responds to their findings at several points in his book."
It certainly didn't take long for Stephen to get the press he richly deserves.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Hard Candy Clips

Readers of this blog know I enjoy films that make us confront controversial issues in ways we'd rather not. Last year Todd Solondz' abortion film Palindromes was a highlight, drawing critical engagement from bloggers Tyler Williams and Ken Ristau. That film skewered pro-choice and pro-life sides mercilessly. This year's Hard Candy, about a pedophile who gets snared and tortured by a young teen, is just as morally ambiguous.

I'll get a full review up later, but for now here are some tantalizing movie clips, about a minute long each, from iFilm (see more at the web-site).

Friday, July 21, 2006

Poll Results

Here's what visitors thought to be the best explanations for shifts in thought between Galatians and Romans.

72% (18 votes) -- change in audience/church situation
16% (4 votes) -- Paul struggling with theological dilemmas
12% (3 votes) -- Paul's increasingly sophistic and deceptive rhetoric
0% (0 votes) -- a bad reputation Paul had acquired since Galatians

I'm not surprised that Paul's bad reputation didn't get any votes, because an emphasis on this factor is rather new. Thomas Tobin's Paul’s Rhetoric in its Contexts has yet to make the impact it deserves. Most, not suprisingly, favor the audience factor. That includes me, though I think all four are important.

I plan on having a functional outline/commentary up soon, which will explain sections of Rom 1:18-15:13 in terms of Paul's audience in Rome, but also with an eye on his theological dilemmas, reputation, and increasingly deceptive rhetoric. All four need attention when solving the Romans puzzle.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Poll: From Galatians to Romans

In preparation for my outline and commentary of Romans (soon to be posted), I'm taking a poll regarding the shifts in thought between Galatians and Romans. Please feel free to vote on the side, and/or leave comments under this blogpost.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

"Where War Lives: A Journey into Human Nature"

For those who live close enough to the University of New England, I'm sure the following lecture would be well worth attending.

David Livingstone Smith, Ph.D.
"Where War Lives: A Journey into Human Nature"
Nov 30, 2006, 6 p.m.
St. Francis Room, Ketchum Library, UNE, Biddeford, Maine
Free and open to the public

Description: "In this presentation I will explore the evolutionary and psychological roots of war and genocide, with a view towards identifying what it is about human nature that makes it possible for us to treat our fellow human beings with such extraordinary brutality. I will argue that our penchent for war is a product of evolution and is deeply imbedded in our human nature. However, killing does not come easily to us: our lethal ferocity towards members of our own species is matched by equally powerful inhibitions against killing that are also part of our evolutionary heritage. In taking the lives of others, we also do violence to ourselves. As a result, psychiatric disorders are common among soldiers. In order to go to war, we must find a way to overcome our natural reluctance to kill members of our own species. In a remarkable act of self-deception, we activate psychological systems originally evolved to deal with non-human dangers in a prehistoric environment, viewing 'the enemy' not as a real human being, but as a predator, prey or a vector of disease. This presentation will be accompanied by illustrations, some of which may be disturbing."

David Smith is the expert on lying and deception whose work I used in the first part of my series on the subject.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The "Weak in Faith" in Rome

Who were the "weak in faith" of Rom 14:1-15:6? In The Mystery of Romans, Mark Nanos has shown that they refer to non-Christian Jews, despite the near universal assumption that they are Christian Jews. The argument is powerful. Consider:
Mark Given (not Nanos) points out that the weak cannot refer to the addressees themselves, because Paul would not have intended for them to hear him tell the strong that they should "put up with their failings" (Rom 15:1). That would be rhetorically inept and undermine Paul's intent to make the Gentiles show them respect.

• Paul implicitly defines the terms "strong in faith" and "weak in faith" in Rom 4:18-25. The strong believe that Jesus was raised from a dead corpse, just as Abraham trusted that Isaac would be born from a dead womb (see Nanos, Mystery, pp 139-144). The weak are so labeled because they deny Christ's resurrection, not because they adhere to the law. The "weak in faith" are, almost by definition, non-Christian.

• In Rom 14:1-15:13 the weak are Jews, but not because they are Jews. On the contrary, they should continue observing purity, fasting, and sabbath and "be fully convinced in their own minds what is right" (Rom 14:5); and they should continue doing so "in honor of God" (Rom 14:6). These Jews are not weak on account of "upholding the law", which Paul believes perfectly acceptable (Rom 3:31) (even if contributing nothing toward salvation). As Nanos puts it, they are not "weak in practice or opinions" (Mystery, p 105). They are weak in faith, denying the messiah's premature resurrection.

• Finally, the section of Rom 14:1-15:13 follows hot on the heels of Rom 12:1-13:14, which deals with proper behavior vis-à-vis the "outside world"; the weak are thus likewise outsiders: unbelieving Israel.
In one sentence: the "weak in faith" are weak for being non-Christian, not for being Jewish. Paul doesn't want Gentiles to exercise their Christly law-freedoms when mixing with Jewish outsiders (Rom 14:15,21; 15:1) anymore than he wants people to exercise freedom from taxation (Rom 13:1-7). God will deal with Caesar himself, and Israel must be respected for the sake of her redemption (cf. Rom 11:17-24).

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The 10 Least Politically Correct Movies Ever

With thanks to Matt Bertrand for the link, MSN presents The 10 Least Politically Correct Movies Ever:

"The following [movies] really went to the precipice of good taste and decorum in the quest for laughs. Most are older, but a few were made fairly recently. Viewed now, many will still create laughter while others might meet with disgust. Of course, in most cases that was the reaction when they were first released."

Blazing Saddles 94%
Airplane! 100%
There’s Something About Mary 78%
Caddyshack 74%
Love and Death 100%
Kentucky Fried Movie 80%
Team America: World Police 77%
Porky’s 28%
Song of the South ?
Bad Santa 74%

I don't think these were intended in any particular order (i.e. they’re not rated progressively to a #1 slot). Most were well received by the critics, as you can tell from the Tomatometer ratings I attached (only Porky's was panned). But the only film that would perhaps find a home in my DVD collection someday would be Team America.

Song of the South was last released in American theaters in 1986. Now you can't even obtain the film here on account of the controversy (it perpetuates the myth of the happy slave). This helpful site clarifies the controversies surrounding the classic and when it may finally be released.

Three Summer Films

There are three films I want to see this summer: Clerks II (July 21), Miami Vice (July 28), and World Trade Center (August 9). Despite my initial concerns about each, it turns out they all look promising.

There aren't many reviews yet, but Clerks II currently has a perfect approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes. The original Clerks is one of my favorite humor films, though I thought all of the Jay-and-Silent Bob sequels were lousy. So let's hope this "true" sequel really delivers.

Miami Vice also has a good rating, but out of only three reviews so far. I'm excited about this one. Director Michael Mann did the original TV series back in the '80s, so I don't think we have to worry about his film being faithful. The series was innovative in so many ways, not least for using original scoring for each episode -- and with a lot of hard-edged rock music. It really was the first police show to break with formula and let the bad guys win (more often than not), and, more importantly, blur the lines between bad and good.

And I've already observed the pre-critical approval for Oliver Stone's World Trade Center. No conspiracy theories, apparently; just good, non-exploitive, emotionally poignant drama.

UPDATE (7/19): Clerks II is down from 100% to 63% at Rotten Tomatoes.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Stuff of Earth: Jesus' Historicity

Keep your eyes on Michael Pahl's five-part series on the historicity of Jesus. I'll post the links to each installment as they appear.

Part I: Approaching the Question
Part II: Evidence for Jesus' Historicity
Part III: Better Evidence for Jesus' Historicity
Part IV: The Nature of Historical Knowledge
Part V: The Significance of Jesus' Historicity

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Prodigal Son Revisited

The Busybody welcomes back Leonard Ridge, who earlier railroaded me for endorsing the aims of the Context Group. Today Leonard will address Richard Rohrbaugh's analysis of The Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32) which I used a month ago to kick off my series on the parables. Be sure to read that post, if you haven't already, before going any further.

The Prodigal Son Revisited
by Leonard Ridge

Loren Rosson says that "if there is an award to be given for the best critical work on a parable, Richard Rohrbaugh earns it for the Prodigal Son". When I read this statement, I immediately went to amazon and ordered V. George Shillington's Jesus and His Parables, the book containing Rohrbaugh's essay. It turns out to be an interesting analysis, explaining the story just as Loren says, in terms of "a beleaguered father with two equally lousy sons", family members who must reconcile themselves to each other and -- even more importantly -- to the entire village they have offended in the meantime.

In other words, we are to understand the story as advocating the reintegration of a dysfunctional family with its neighbors more than the repentance of an individual. I complained before about an implicit fascism emerging from the work of the Context Group, and how the patronization of primitive communal values finds alarmingly wide favor among conservatives. Note how evangelical Craig Blomberg describes Rohrbaugh's essay as "perhaps the most helpful piece" in a book otherwise top-heavy with liberalism. He approves Rohrbaugh's emphasis on "the dynamic of the father having to overcome the displeasure of the villagers at his own overly gracious reaction to his son(s)". The stifling of individual identity and expression in favor of group solidarity is a hallmark of fascism, and the fact that this is "agrarian peasant fascism" makes it no more benign than its totalitarian cousin.

But that's not all. There's an aspect of Rohrbaugh's essay that goes unmentioned by Loren, one that underscores its fascist credentials more darkly. Rohrbaugh derives a menacing corollary -- one that we must cite at length:
If one takes a step back from the details of the story and thinks about what is going on as the plot unfolds, it is obvious that one of the key things being celebrated here is the return of a villager who had gone to the city, with tragic consequences. Since the non-elite populations of the cities came primarily from those separated from village families by debt, non-inheritance or family dispute, the experience of the prodigal would have been all too familiar to peasant hearers of Jesus. The story would celebrate the return of one of their own who had experienced the devastating impact of the city upon displaced peasants... [and] call into question the fatal attraction peasants felt toward the city. (Jesus and His Parables, pp 163-164)
Now the alarm bells are blaring. Contempt for cities is a primal ingredient of fascism, for which Alfred Rosenberg may serve as a spokesperson:
"We stand today before a definitive decision. Either through a new experience and cultivation of the old blood, coupled with an enhanced fighting will, we will rise to a purificatory action, or the last Germanic-western values of morality and state-culture shall sink away in the filthy human masses of the big cities, become stunted on the sterile burning asphalt of a bestialized inhumanity, or trickle away as a morbific agent in the form of emigrants, bastardizing themselves in South America, China, Dutch East India, Africa..." (The Myth of the Twentieth Century)
Nick Woomer comments on this passage, noting that "the fascist has contempt for capitalism because the inevitable urbanization it generates undermines and 'bastardizes' older, purer, agrarian modes of life". But Rohrbaugh sees Jesus vindicating exactly this -- "older, purer, agrarian modes of life", group solidarity, conservative village values, all at a safe distance away from the abominable influence of the cities. This is sobering. His Jesus is no progressive cosmopolitan (unlike Burton Mack's Jesus). His Jesus is a figure I would shun like the plague.

To be fair, Rohrbaugh emphasizes a countercultural dimension alongside the traditional. Loren does too: this is his own spin on the parable, interpreted apocalyptically:
"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... 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."
So what's the scoop? Is the story about dishonor -- "making an ass and fool of oneself for the sake of the kingdom" -- or about unbending loyalty to kin and community? Apparently both. But as I read Rohrbaugh, the latter wins out by a long shot. Tradition supersedes counterculture, completely opposite the Jesus Seminar's Jesus. Yes, the father's behavior is unorthodox. But the endgoal (which is what really matters) has nothing but bigotry in view: village loyalty, insular solidarity, away from the cesspits of urbanism. A peasant fascism, if you will.

Don't tell me the Context Group is trying to explain Jesus neutrally without any sights on contemporary relevance. Rohrbaugh's essay comes in a book whose stated goal is not only to better understand the historical Jesus, but "to function as a guide for instructors and leaders in religion more generally" (Jesus and His Parables, p 3). His take on the Prodigal Son may be accurate, historically, but I wouldn't want it to fall into the hands of Christian pastors. Preach instead Burton Mack's ludicrous fantasy of a cosmopolitan Jesus. Even if bogus, that's what we need for today's world.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Opposite Day

Many powerful arguments were made yesterday, Opposite Day, aptly hosted by Rick Brannan. See Rick's list for the complete roundup, and be sure to read them all. I was especially pleased to see the greatest independent scholar of all time, Yuri Kuchinsky, cited in Carl Stephenson's proof that Secret Mark predates canonical Mark by 20 years. What a riot.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Shame on Rosson and the Context Group

In the spirit referenced here, I welcome guest critic Leonard Ridge to speak about the honor-shame culture of the bible and contemporary multiculturalism. Leonard hasn't been pleased with the things I've been saying over the past year and wants to set the record straight. So without further ado, I'll give him the floor.

Shame on Rosson and the Context Group: The Fallacy of Multiculturalism
by Leonard Ridge

Thus speak two members of The Context Group:
"The awareness of multiculturalism would require us to be sensitive to differences among cultures... If we wish to understand the persons of the ancient Mediterranean world, persons from the world of Jesus and Paul, we should be prepared to learn entirely new ways of perceiving so as to assess those persons on their own terms. Otherwise, we will be perpetuating the long-standing problem of being "Ugly Americans", a phrase coined to describe the utter failure of U.S. personnel at the beginning of the Vietcong insurgency to understand the ways of that mysterious culture." (Bruce Malina, Portraits of Paul, pp 2, 4)

"To comprehend [the New Testament authors] is an exercise in intercultural understanding. We wish to understand them in their otherness, perceiving their horizon to be situated where it should be, separate from ours, with a separation that persists in spite of our conversation... For an "I" to dialogue with a "You" entails a respect for the alterity, the radical otherness, of the other; there is no need to try to reach agreement. It is our attitude to the other that produces genuine dialogue and communion." (Philip Esler, New Testament Theology: Communion and Community, pp 86-87)
... and thus speak those who rightly decry the above multiculturalist agenda:
"The multiculturalist "preservation impulse" is identical to the fascist one, except that it's addressed to members of non-dominant, often oppressed, groups... [But] the logic and rhetoric of multiculturalism actually undermines its stated goals. We should reject the preservation impulse, along with the notion that a culture can even have an authentic identity. The only truly emancipatory move is to instead embrace the relentless force of cosmopolitanism (pejoratively called "cultural genocide") -- which takes place in the world's racially and culturally integrated urban centers." (Nick Woomer

"Safety demands that religions be put in cages when absolutely necessary... A faith, like a species, must evolve or go extinct when the environment changes... Many Muslims agree with this, and we must not only listen to them, but do what we can to protect and support them, for they are bravely trying, from the inside, to reshape the tradition they cherish into something better, something ethically defensible. That is -- or, rather, ought to be -- the message of multiculturalism, not the patronizing and subtly racist hypertolerance that "respects" vicious and ignorant doctrines when they are propounded by officials of non-European states and religions." (Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, pp 515-517)
Loren Rosson is practically a walking advertisement for the Context Group, the body of biblical scholars who have devoted a Herculean amount of labor to help us understand -- and more importantly, "appreciate" -- the honor-shame culture of the bible. In that culture what other people believe about you, and how they perceive you, is far more important than what is actually true. Questions of innocence and guilt are sidelined, and concerns for truth and the preservation of individual rights take a back seat. But if this world seems primitive and barbaric to us, then, according to Loren and these scholars, it is we who need to readjust our perspective, not vice-versa. Their wisdom fits in with the wider multiculturalist agenda which has been dividing the liberal left for some time.

Multiculturalism may sound progressive, but it's not. It celebrates ethnic diversity simply because it is diversity, uncritically approving ethnic pride, groupthink, honor-shame codes, and all so that people can "comfortably be themselves". By-products of this agenda include moral relativism, hypertolerance, and a patronizing racism that end up doing far more damage than good. On top of that, there is the irony observed by Nick Woomer, that while "multiculturalism looks very enlightened and liberating, it is being expropriated to serve a reactionary right-wing agenda".

Well guess what? That's exactly what's happening in biblical studies. Evangelicals like Ben Witherington, David de Silva, and J.P. Holding have taken turns championing the work of the Context Group, and no surprise. What better apologetic tool for eliciting sympathy for primitive biblical teachings? If Jesus condemned divorce in order to protect the honor of families (as Context Group members say), that plays right into the hands of modern Republican "family values". (Contrast with the claims of John Dominic Crossan and Elizabeth Fiorenza that Jesus was an egalitarian who criticized divorce in order to empower women.) If we can sympathize with the way a culture uses invective and polemic (as in Rom 1:18-32), then we can perhaps get even more comfortable with our own religious bigotry. That a group of scholarly rebels (the Context Group) has found wide favor amongst conservatives -- rather than, say, their liberal cousins on the Jesus Seminar -- should be a cause for concern.

An insightful scholar named Chris Heard -- clearly one of Loren's betters on the biblioblogs -- has noticed the same thing. He says:
"I run into a lot of conservative Christians, especially among my students, who act like cultural relativists with respect to ancient Israel alone, or the ancient Near East generally, but not with respect to contemporary cultures -- yet I can find no consistent basis for this. Might an honor-shame culture operate in such a way that it socialized its members to believe that honoring one's adult male guest took precedence over ensuring your children's wellbeing? Yes, and if that's the case, it should be well understood when evaluating relevant texts and stories from that culture. But that does not mean that it should be endorsed any more than slavery, polygamy, or pogroms should be endorsed. Cultural moral relativism really bugs me, but selective cultural moral relativism bugs me even more."
And that's the irony. Liberals have embraced relativism for the sake of oppressed groups whose voices tend to go unheard, and conservatives have done so more narrowly for the sake of their own creed. The bible just happens to be relevant to both -- to the former in terms of its origins, the latter in terms of contemporary interpretation. Is this lost on Context Group members? Does history teach them nothing? Once the minority voices of the early Christians became co-opted by the state in the fourth century, they became lethal, and Jewish people suffered for centuries because of it. Do we really want to be so wonderfully open-minded about minority groups and third-world cultures who speak the language of intolerance and outdated virtue as much as their oppressors -- just because it's fashionable to be "culturally sensitive"?

Loren -- the Context-Group stooge of the biblioblogs -- appears to think we should. He lends an alarmingly sympathetic ear to things which should horrify anyone in their right mind. He says, for instance, that the honor-shame code only seems oppressive to those of us who live in the west, implying that our indignant reactions to honor-rapes/killings are misplaced. He uses safety-disclaimers, of course -- he doesn't want "to excuse what's going on in India and Pakistan, rather to understand the rape-phenomenon and the values from which it derives" -- but the underlying message is loud and clear. What Loren really wants, like Malina and Co., is for us to loathe ourselves more than anyone or anything else -- that is, our cultural imperialism; our western arrogance.

It's because of people like Loren and the Context-Group members that the Euston Manifesto has been recently drawn up, for truly progressive democrats who:
• decline to make excuses for, or to indulgently "understand", reactionary regimes and movements for which democracy is a hated enemy... and draw a firm line between themselves and other left-liberal voices today quick to offer an apologetic explanation for such political forces

• hold the fundamental human rights codified in the Universal Declaration to be precisely universal, and binding on all states and political movements, indeed on everyone; violations of these rights are equally to be condemned whoever is responsible for them and regardless of cultural context

• reject the double standards with which much self-proclaimed progressive opinion now operates, finding lesser violations of human rights which are closer to home more deplorable than foreign violations that are flagrantly worse
If putting such a manifesto into practice would make us "Ugly Americans" -- as Bruce Malina worries about in the opening citation of this post -- then, Christ-on-crutches, we need to be ugly about this. Dennett and Woomer are right. It's time to call out multiculturalism for what it is, an inverted fascism that exacerbates problems relating to intolerance and the violation of human rights. It's time to recognize honor-shame cultures as inherently inferior -- and say so, damn it, without piling on sweetness and disclaimers. It's time for those cultures to evolve. And it's high time to view the people of the bible -- even the occasionally counter-cultural Jesus -- for what they were: primitive and wrong about most things, part of a world whose passing should be our goal.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Tomorrow's Opposite Blogging

It looks like Richard Anderson, Jim West, and Rick Brannan are ready for some alter-ego blogging tomorrow. I too have something special planned. Get ready for the diatribes of Leonard Ridge, who will tell us why the social science models used by the Context Group are misguided, tools of hypertolerance, and intolerably racist.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Quote for the Day: The Problem with Texts

"To become absorbed with the textual dimension of biblical works is not merely to mistake the medium for the message but to make a realistic understanding of that message all the more difficult by insufficient attention to the actual social context of its genesis. To valorize textuality in the interpretation of the New Testament documents is to interpret these ancient works in a manner that has only been possible since the invention of printing and which is indelibly stamped with the mark of modern origins." (Philip Esler, New Testament Theology, p 169)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Opposite Blogging

Rick Brannan has a wonderful idea: Opposite Blogging, whereby bibliobloggers would "don their alter egos and play devil's advocate, arguing opposite what they normally would". I think this would be a fun and healthy exercise. Good scholars are supposed to anticipate the strongest objections to their case anyway, and this would force one to actually make the opposite case oneself.

Rick lists two examples, Mark Goodacre arguing for Q, and Jim West arguing for the archaeological reliability of the Hebrew Bible. To these we could add: Michael Turton (if he were still around) arguing for Jesus' existence; Stephen Carlson proving that Secret Mark pre-dates the other gospels, and James Crossley telling us why canonical Mark post-dates them; Jim Davila revealing the pseudepigrapha to be thoroughly Jewish compositions; Richard Anderson acknowledging Luke's Gentile outlook at long last. I guess my own alter-ego blogging would be about demonstrating that the honor-shame model is based on racist stereotyping, and that Jesus and Paul shared more in common with introspective westerns after all.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Looking Back

One week from today, on 7/11, The Busybody will be one year old. After 305 blogposts I'm still at it. It's been a fun ride.

Because Blogger's archiving is so primitive, I thought this would be an opportune time to revisit some of the best posts from the past year which haven't already been placed on the sidebar. Consider this a birthday carnival for the next week.

I want to thank my readers for visiting, commenting over the past year, and for making the blogosphere an enjoyable place to be. Next Tuesday, on 7/11, we'll kick off year #2. In the meantime, enjoy this trip down memory lane... and happy Independence Day to American readers.

Honor-Shame. How relevant is the bible in western culture?

Millenialism or Myth? It's better to be a mythicist than a mimimalist, though neither one cuts it.

The Shameless Hussy of Mk 7:24-30/Mt 15:21-28. Jesus was gratified by the pagan woman who managed to outwit him.

Top 10 Books of the Bible. My favorites.

Lk 17:20-21 and the Apocalypse. Jesus' evasive retort to the Pharisees.

Scholars to Spend Time With. One of my favorite blogposts.

Q: Skeptical Brits, Credulous Americans. Americans are more trendy than Brits, and perhaps more prone to believe in that which cannot be seen.

The Angry Healer. Jesus told a man to get lost for challenging his ability to heal.

20 Years is a Long Time. Christians required Gentiles to adopt the Torah as the apocalypse kept being delayed.

John Meier's Unpapal Conclave Experiment and The Conclave's Results. A diverse group finds at least some common ground on the historical Jesus.

Professionals and Amateurs I and II. Professional training isn't a pre-requisite for good biblical interpretation.

Jesus and Us. My favorite quote from the past year: Dale Allison says the historical Jesus can do very little for us.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Library Patriots

There's a good editorial in The Nation this week. Well, of course it's good, for suggesting that librarians are among the real patriots to honor over the glorious Fourth:

"Since the enactment of the Patriot Act in 2001, the American Library Association (ALA) has been at the forefront of the fight to defend freedom of inquiry and thought from provisions of the act that allow the Justice Department to subpoena the records of libraries and bookstores...

"But the librarians have not just been lobbying to change the Patriot Act, they've been on the front lines of exposing its abuses. When four Connecticut librarians challenged an attempt by the FBI to use a National Security Letter to obtain records of who was reading what in that state, the Justice Department slapped a gag order on them. But the 64,000-member ALA and its Freedom to Read Foundation stood up for the librarians, working with the American Civil Liberties Union, the Association of American Publishers and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression to make a federal case of the issue. In May, after the FBI dropped its defense of the gag order -- and shortly before it withdrew its demand for the records -- a federal appeals court declared that order moot, and the librarians were at last free to speak out...

"The ALA isn't the only group challenging the Administration's disregard for basic liberties. The American Bar Association is investigating whether George W. Bush exceeded his constitutional authority when he reserved the right to ignore more than 750 laws enacted since he took office. The American Medical Association has adopted guidelines that make it unethical for physicians to participate in interrogating detainees...

"Those defenders of basic rights are the patriotic heroes of this Fourth of July... They are responding to Paine's call, as relevant now as it was more than 200 years ago: 'Ye that dare oppose not only the tyranny but the tyrant, stand forth!' "

Galatians vs. Romans

I'm writing up a catalog of the major shifts in thought between Galatians and Romans. Two sources in particular have been a big help for this: Philip Esler's Conflict and Identity in Romans and Thomas Tobin's Paul's Rhetoric in its Contexts. (Ed Sanders' Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People was good for #5.) The following ten stand out as biggies.
(1) In Galatians Paul says that baptism results in the abolition of ethnic boundaries: "in Christ there is neither Judean nor Greek" (Gal 3:27-28). In Romans that's the last thing he wants to say. Here the lesson drawn from baptism (Rom 6:1-15) is not the abolition of ethnic boundaries, rather just the opposite: Gentiles escape the power of sin (Rom 6:16-23) in a completely different way than Judeans (Rom 7:1-25). Gentiles die to ungodliness -- that is, to "impurity and lawlessness" (Rom 6:19) -- and then become slaves of God (Rom 6:22). Judeans die to the law (Rom 7:4). (Esler, pp 218-219)

(2) In Galatians Abraham is primarily the ancestor of the uncircumcised (Gal 3:6-9), and his seed refers to Christ (Gal 3:16). In Romans Abraham is the ancestor of the circumcised and uncircumcised in equal measure (Rom 4:1-17), and his seed refers to Judeans and Greeks (Rom 4:16-17). (Esler, p 185; Tobin pp 100-101)

(3) In Galatians Paul interprets Psalm 143 as a general principle, meaning that righteousness was never theoretically possible by observing the law (Gal 2:16). In Romans he uses the psalm to point out only that in fact no one has observed the law enough to be righteous by it (Rom 3:9-20). (Tobin, p 122)

(4) In Galatians Paul uses freedom language to imply liberation from the law (Gal 5). In Romans any freedom language is about liberation from sin, and is accompanied by language of slavery and obedience (Rom 6). (Tobin, p 216)

(5) In Galatians the law is an active agent in confining Israel to sin (Gal 3:19-26). In Romans, the law is either passive in its relationship to sin (Rom 7:7-13), or has nothing to do with it at all (Rom 7:14-25). God has been exonerated in terms of his intentions: instead of using the law to consign Israel to sin so that she may be saved by faith, he now gives the law unto righteousness and life, but sin foils his intent, requiring faith as a rescue operation. This may raise questions about God's competency, but at least it saves him from perversity. [Though note the Galatians view resurfaces in Rom 11:32.] (Sanders, pp 65-86; Esler, pp 230-231)

(6) In Galatians divine sonship is a result of being liberated from the law (Gal 4:3-7). In Romans divine sonship is a reason for living by the spirit (8:1-17). (Esler, p 248)

(7) In Galatians the spirit is contrasted with the flesh (Gal 3:3; 5:16-17,19-26), the law (Gal 3:2; 3:10-14; 5:18), and those who are circumcised and observe the law (Gal 5:2-6). In Romans the spirit is contrasted with the flesh only (Rom 8:1-17); the spirit is now law-like (Rom 8:2). [Though note: the contrast between spirit/law briefly resurfaces in Rom 7:6.] (Tobin, pp 277-281)

(8) In Galatians the promises to Israel were limited by time, and that time has now elapsed (Gal 3:15-18; 4:1-2). In Romans the promises to Israel are still being fulfilled, but in an unexpected way (Rom 9:1-11:32). (Esler, p 277)

(9) In Galatians the Christ-group is Israel (Gal 6:16). In Romans Israel is Israel (Rom 9:1-11:32). Paul comes close to identifying the Christ-group as Israel (explicitly in Rom 9:6-29 and implicitly in Rom 11:17-24), but avoids taking that final step, making clear that Israel is ethnic Israel (Rom 9:1-5, 9:30-11:16, 11:25-32) rather than a spiritualized (Christian) Israel. (Esler, pp 279, 307)

(10) In Galatians believers "baptize into Christ" or "clothe themselves with Christ" (Gal 3:27) -- calling to mind pagan mystery initiation rites -- while in Romans they "baptize into Christ's death" (Rom 6). [Though note: the Galatians view resurfaces in Rom 13:14, where Paul tells people to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" in the context of ethical instruction.] (Tobin, pp 199-200)

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Biblical Studies Carnival VII

Biblical Studies Carnival VII is up at Chip Hardy's Daily Hebrew.