Sunday, September 30, 2007

Help for Mandaean refugees on the way

I am excited to report that the Senate has passed a bill to help resettle vulnerable populations in the US. Now is the moment to encourage your House Representative in Washington D.C. to support and pass this legislation. It feels like it has been a long campaign to help the Mandaeans, but it looks like some good may come out of it.

This excerpt is quoted from Refugee's International E-Update which was sent to me today:

Victory! Senate Passes Bill to Help Iraqi Refugees

Late last night, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed an amendment, the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act of 2007, to assist Iraqi translators and others who have been targeted for working with the United States. The bill would increase the number of vulnerable Iraqis who can be resettled in the U.S. by improving the process for Iraqis to apply for resettlement. Refugees International thanks Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) for introducing this bill, as well as the numerous Senators, including Senators Gordon Smith (R-Ore), Sam Brownback (R-Kan), and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn), who supported the bill. Refugees International urges the House of Representatives to follow the Senate's lead and pass this legislation. In addition, the Bush Administration should increase regional security by providing humanitarian relief funding to the countries hosting the millions of Iraqi refugees who have been forced to flee the violence in Iraq, as well as the NGOs and UN agencies providing relief services for displaced Iraqis.

Friday, September 28, 2007

How can we know anything from our texts?

J.C. Baker left a very good question in the comments of the previous post:
I am glad to see this discussion on the historical validity of Acts. I am working toward a dissertation in Acts and cannot simply dismiss that there is some historical value in Luke's narrative. Granted, my minor is theological hermeneutics so i am constantly asking, "how do we know anything is of historical value?"
This is THE question, isn't it? It is a question that we must keep before us every minute as we work through our texts. Skepticism must be second nature. But a working skepticism doesn't mean that we ditch the text as unable to yield any historical information. For me it means that we start with the assumption that the text is not directly relating history - that is, as it is written, it is not telling us how history actually happened. It is a narrative of memory and theology. As skeptics, we begin from the position that the narrative must prove its history to us.

So the real quest is the one of historical hermeneutics, trying to recover elements that are older than the narrative itself, elements that might point us to an earlier time - to an earlier history and an earlier theology. Since communal memory functions to continually update the older traditions to keep them fresh and relevant, we can recover older memories and perhaps even sources by observing how the present author reworks the materials to his liking. Whatever he is reworking, is received tradition that he wishes to revise. This I call for lack of a better term, identification of authorial revision of received tradition. So this is my first step in historical reading.

My second step is reading against the grain, trying to read the narrative against its intended purpose, to see if this reveals anything of merit. Part of this process is identifying anything in the narrative that doesn't support the agenda of the author, anything that conflicts with the narrative's flow or the author's stated theology, anything that doesn't fit the author's contemporary story.

Third, I try to identify the bigger story that the author assumes its audience knows but which we might not know. Other contemporary texts help here because they may contain elements of this bigger picture. Mainly, it amounts to sitting down and mapping the elements in the narrative that are introduced but never explained. Then trying to understand these elements based on our knowledge of other texts from antiquity.

Fourth, I use other contemporary texts as points of comparison. In the case of Acts, we are so lucky to have Paul's letters (and James - yes, I think that James is an early letter from the Jerusalem church). These letters give us comparison points to evaluate what is going on in Acts.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Is Luke a trustworthy historian?

I want to pick up a thread from my last post, one that I left dangling yesterday. I want to pose what I consider to be a very serious question.

Why is Acts written off today as a Lukan myth with little or no historical value? Why do scholars who wish to argue for the historicity of elements of Acts have to go through an inordinate amount of justification before doing so?

I ask this question for several reasons, reasons that feel schizophrenic to me:
1. When Luke uses Mark, he does not rework Mark as much as Matthew.
2. When Luke uses Q, Q-scholars tell us that he retains Q better in terms of verbage and order than Matthew. In fact, our reconstructed Q is versed according to Luke.
3. Luke tells us in the beginning of his gospel that he relied on older sources to rewrite the Christian narrative which we apparently trust given our hypothesis that Luke is a second edition of Mark.
4. If we think that Luke used Mark and Q as literary sources, wouldn't the best assumption be that he also used older traditional sources for the composition of Acts?
5. If 4 is valid, then shouldn't we be trying to figure out what those older traditions are and what they tell us about Christianity earlier than Luke?
I might add that many of the same scholars who are Q experts, are also the scholars who completely discard Acts in terms of any historical value.

I know that many scholars in the previous generation trusted Acts much more than is done today and perhaps more than it should have been. They didn't allow skepticism to be in the forefront of their scholarship; and more than not they were controlled by a Christian apologetic agenda.

But this doesn't mean that in response we should throw the baby out with the bath water. In my view, it means that we have to get back to the hard work of sifting through the actual primary text narrative to recover any historical nuggets we might be able to locate.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Rewriting Early Christianity

My previous post, as many so far this semester, are coming out of research questions that we are pondering in NT and Christian Origins as well as the related Rice Early Christianity Research Seminar (RECRS) where we are going back to ground zero and engaging in thought experiments from the primary texts forward. There is a sense when this is done that things haven't yet been sorted out. There are many tough questions, particularly about the years 30-50, that we must grapple with anew, without the Christian apology that has dogged and continues to dog the historical processes of reconstructing early Christianity.

There is also the desire here at Rice to provide an alternative seminar exploration to the newly reconstituted Jesus Seminar as the Christian Origins Seminar. It will be illuminating to see how the two seminars struggle with the same issues, and finally sort them out. We plan to publish our reflections, although we don't have a dedicated publishing house such as Polebridge. So we will probably submit to NT journals and see what happens.

As for Michael Bird's question about my take on Acts (he wrote in the comments on the last post: "Does this mean that Luke gives us 'reliable' history about the Jerusalem and Antioch churches? Just curious :-"), I have some remarks.

I am not of the opinion that has taken over scholarship - that Acts is a myth created by Luke with little to no historical value.

First, it bothers me very much that as scholars we rely on Luke's gospel for Jesus' words and even deeds when reconstructing our historical Jesuses, but declare Acts devoid of historical value about the early church. This appears to me to be a modern academic agenda to erase or marginalize the Jerusalem church and replace it with original multiple competing Christianities, with the most original represented by Q1 from Galilee. I have a lot to say about this figment of scholars' imaginations, but I won't go into it here because it is off topic.

Second, when we make a careful comparison of Acts and Paul's letters, there is much that they agree on or share similar knowledge of. The biggest issue for me is their agreement that the Jerusalem church was the authority on matters Christian prior to 70. At the very least we can say that if you weren't networked into the Jerusalem church, if you didn't have its blessing, you were in for a struggle.

Third, through careful historical analysis, reading against the grain, and the like, there are elements of Luke's account that can be taken seriously, while there are others that can tell us a lot about how communal memory operated in late first century Christianity, revising and remembering the older traditions in a certain nuanced way. So I like to say that Luke preserves memories of early history. It is our job as scholars to sort out what those are, and to differentiate those from the communal memory at the time that Luke is writing and his own agendas as a narrator.

PS...I met Mark Nanos years ago at a conference at St. Andrews, when he was just starting graduate school. I have always found his opinion on Paul refreshing since he reads him from a Jewish perspective, which is also my preference.

What was going on in Antioch?

This is the question that I have posed to the students in my NT and Christian Origins class. It is a complex issue that I don't think has been adequately resolved yet. Some observations:

1. Acts 6:5 mentions Nicolaus a proselyte of Antioch. The Greek appears to me to be ambiguous: that Nicolaus was either a man from Antioch and a proselyte of the Jerusalem church, or already a proselyte from Antioch. If the latter, then there is an Antiochean church before Stephen's martyrdom. Since Nicolaus was also a "Hellenist" then this would support the Antiochean church as a Greek-speaking satellite of the Jerusalem church.

2. Acts 8:1 and 11:19 mention the dispersion of the Hellenists into Judaea, Samaria, Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. The mission work included, according to Luke, preaching to the Jews and the Gentiles (11:20).

3. Acts 9:29 says that the Hellenists are after Paul, seeking to kill him because of his preaching. How can this be reconciled with Acts 6?

4. Acts 11:22, 11:27-29, 13:1, 15:1, etc. There appears to be a strong network of missions established very early in the church with Jerusalem as the main center, while Antioch (and others) are satellites under the authority of Jerusalem. This is not the opinion of Luke alone since it is supported by what Paul tells us about his relationship with Jerusalem in his letters, a relationship that he struggles with.

5. What were the Antiochean Christians teaching? They had a Gentile mission. Were they circumcising? Were they following traditional Jewish diet? Did Jerusalem relax its attitude toward the Law as is implied by the story of the Jerusalem council and the letter that Luke says James sent to Antioch? What was going on in Antioch?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Two Festschrifts on Apocryphal Texts and Subjects

In case you missed them, there are two relatively recent festschrifts that include a number of important studies on apocryphal and Gnostic texts.

David H. Warren, Ann Grahman Brock, and David W. Pao, Early Christian Voices in Texts, Traditions, and Symbols: Essays in Honor of François Bovon, Biblical Interpretation Series 66 (Leiden: Brill, 2003).
Contains 32 studies from well-known scholars on subjects ranging from Q, Thomas, Luke, second-century movements, exegesis and hermeneutics in apocryphal texts, and unpublished ancient manuscripts. Particularly interesting to me is Morard's contribution which is a critical edition of a Coptic Apostolic Homily. But there are many more fantastic articles, so be sure to at least check it out of the library (it is a pricey Brill volume).
Anthony Hilhorst and George H. van Kooten, The Wisdom of Egypt: Jewish, Early Christian, and Gnostic Essays in Honour of Gerard Pl Luttikhuizen, Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity 59 (Leiden: Brill, 2005).
This volume has a entire section devoted to Gnosticism including Mani, magical practices, and NH text studies. The other two sections cover early Christianity in Egypt and Judaism in Egypt. So this is another very good volume to check out (and another pricey Brill book!).

ARAM Conference on Mandaeans

I just received this information about a conference in September 2008 focused on the Mandaeans at the University of London.

September 2007

Dear Colleague,

ARAM Society for Syro-Mesopotamian Studies is organising its Twenty Sixth International Conference on the theme of The Mandaeans, to be held at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, 08-10 September 2008.

The conference aims to study Mandaeism and its relationship to Near Eastern religions and gnostic movements, and it will start on Monday 08 September at 9am, finishing on Wednesday 10 September at 6pm. Each speaker's paper is limited to 30 minutes, with an additional 10 minutes for discussion.

If you wish to participate in the conference, please send your proposal to before December 2007. We would like to remind our colleagues that only academics are allowed to present a paper at an ARAM conference.

The conference will start on Monday 8 September at 9am, finishing on Wednesday 10 September at 6pm. All papers given at the conference will be considered for publication in a future edition of the ARAM Periodical, subject to editorial review.

If you wish to know more about our ARAM Society and its academic activities, please open our website:

If you have any questions or comments at any time, I am always happy to receive them.
Yours sincerely,

Shafiq Abouzayd (Dr.)
Aram Society for Syro-Mesopotamian Society
The Oriental Institute
University of Oxford
Pusey Lane
Oxford OX1 2LE ˆ UK
Tel: +1865-514041
Fax: +1865-516824>

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Amazon Search Feature

The Thirteenth Apostle now has a search feature on Amazon, including a "surprise me" button which takes you to random pages in the book. I've been playing with it to see the book myself since I never saw this final version. It's fun. The publishers told me that the book will be off the press and available in October.

Survey (or possible exam question for NT and Christian Origins)

Who were the Hellenists mentioned in Acts? Why do you think this? Please leave your answer in a comment. I am interested to collect opinions on this question.

1. Greek-speaking Jews moved into Jerusalem from the diaspora, conservative-minded toward the Law.
2. Greek-speaking Jews moved into Jerusalem from the diaspora, liberal tendencies toward the Law.
3. Greek-speaking Gentiles associated with a local Jerusalem synagogue, "god-fearers".
4. Greek-speaking Gentiles and Jews associated with a local Jerusalem synagogue.
5. Greek-speaking Gentiles with no affiliation with a local Jerusalem synagogue.
6. These folks are a fabrication of the author of Acts.
7. Other

Monday, September 17, 2007

Diary 1: Layton's Coptic Grammar

Every now and then, I plan to post a brief note about how it is going in Coptic class using Layton's new grammar rather than the standard learning grammar by Lambdin.

It is good. There are many features that I can tell I already prefer to Lambdin. The best in terms of learning are the exercises that ask the students to compose Coptic sentences in each chapter. They are all fairly simple so far, but what they do is REALLY teach students under what conditions certain consonants shift (N to M), what types of variations in sentences we can expect, and how sentences are structured. So this is a boon.

I also like the sequence of learning so far. Layton breaks the nominal sentence down into a couple of easily digestible chapters, and explains the order of the subject and the predicate in very simple terms.

I did find myself creating a handout for the alphabet with a bit different sounds of J and CH, and an easier explanation of the dipthongs and semivowels, which Layton covers in Chapter 1.

Chapter 2 required some easier explanation, especially in terms of the zero article conditions which Layton seems fond of discussing and marking. I found this a bit cumbersome, and something that interests a linguist, but not necessarily a first semester student.

Chapter 3. There is a mistake on p. 26: line 28, propophetes is incorrect: should read prophetes. I also wondered why the box on p. 28 wasn't introduced with the personal subject pronouns on p. 26 #32 heading.

PS: As for pacing, I am doing one chapter a week. This can probably be increased to two a week after Chapters 1 and 2. But I would suggest having two 2-hour meeting times per week to do this. I'm meeting only once a week for 3 hours. We are usually done in 2 hours. So it is a bit leisurely I think.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

History, the Bible, and Belief

If you haven't ventured over to Judy Redman's blog for a while, she has what I think is a very interesting post. It comes out of her experience as an ordained minister, and I find that it says a lot about the problems/challenges that historians face in the classroom and in lecture halls when discussing biblical materials from a critical perspective. The question that is raised comes from one of Geoff's comments. How did we get to be religiously illiterate people? Why are we so willing to be modern with everything else in our lives, except when it comes to the Bible?

Judy discusses the sorts of reactions that people have to historical criticism of the Bible. These are typical too in my classroom and in public lecture venues, especially when people are first-timers to critically and historically assessing biblical materials. Some are delighted to finally be discussing issues that they haven't been able to do in typical confessional groups. They are finding answers to questions that they have had for years. They engage and express relief and true joy. Others wonder what is going on and want to know when am I going to start talking like a minister. Still others close down because what I do with the texts is not something that they have encountered before in church or bible studies. I usually hear criticisms - that my approach to the biblical literature is "biased," by which is usually meant that I am biased because I do not assume the text's inspired nature and infallibility. In this way, whatever historical work I do on the texts is dismissed by them off hand.

I have wondered about this for years, since it is a continual struggle. Where does this illiteracy and the resistance to becoming literate about biblical issues come from? Judy tells us about her experience within the church, and I find this "confession" fascinating. What I have thought about in this regard is not so much the church, but at least here in the States, the separation of Church and State. Many Christians complain about this separation because they want to pray in schools and hold bible studies as part of the curriculum; but really the separation of Church and State has done more to foster their devotional Christianity than not. Why? Because 100% of education about Christianity is controlled by the churches, until college when it can be elected as a class. So when students come into one of my classes approaching the bible from an historical-critical perspective, there is no preparation for that. Since what I do is so different from anything they have encountered before in the pew, it is easily dismissed as "biased" against Christianity, and folded into the "false teacher" rhetoric.

So I add to Judy's opinion that church leaders have kept the historical perspective under wraps - when the State can't teach youngsters about the critical history of religion(s), this leaves its education to the Church, which can choose what it wants to tell its parish and what it wants to keep silent about.

Now, just in case you jump to the wrong conclusion, I'm not advocating that the State take control of religious education. Why? Because I am more afraid of how terribly this would be done than I am about leaving it undone. I am afraid that it would turn into involuntary confessional bible courses, rather than historical critical studies of the bible and religion(s) such as is done on university campuses.

Long and short of it - if you go to college, take Religious Studies courses and learn. If you don't go to college, go to the bookstore or university library and get books (respected historical ones; not pop junk) to read on your own. As far as religious education, it is up to you.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Link to Elliott's article

Bob Webb sent me the e-link to Elliott's article, "Jesus the Israelite Was Neither a 'Jew' nor a 'Christian': On Correcting Misleading Nomenclature." He says that there were some problems with getting the online version uploaded, but that has been corrected, and it is now available electronically - for free from university libraries that have subscriptions for the journal. Thanks Bob.

I also want to point out another reference if you wish for help sorting out the use of Jew/Judean in the ancient world. I recommend reading Shayne Cohen, The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties (1999). Cohen covers what made or did not make Jewish identity during our period. He even discusses Herod the Great as a Jew. He handles tough questions like conversion, intermarriage, martrilineal descent, etc. His conclusion is that Jewishness is a construct created by the Hasmoneans in order to try to separate the Jew from the Greek.

Jew or Christian?

Some comments on those who posted their opinions in my last entry.

1. Jared said:
This should not deny, however, 1) local variations and 2) temporal variations in the Second Temple Period, even as they revolve around some core issues of Temple, Torah, exclusive worship of YHWH, etc.
Absolutely. This is one of those "givens" for me. I'm glad that Jared articulated it. I had a paragraph written to this effect, but deleted it before I posted the last entry because I felt that it was getting too long-winded.

2. Rebecca said:
I agree with those who argue that the parting of the ways was only a very gradual process (Annette Reed's book on the Fallen Angels brilliantly discusses this issue among others) - but that doesn't mean that Judaism didn't exist until the third century. To say that there is a continuum does not mean the phenomenon under discussion doesn't exist.
This is an absolutely essential point that many people unfortunately seem to miss. I hope Rebecca plans to publish something on this.

3. Deane said:
More to the topic of conversation--and it is an interesting one, too. I really think that the debate about the self-understanding of first-century Israelites (which is, I think, the concern of the debate) are very much more close in viewpoint to your own wider positions, than those of their opponents. In Annette Yoshiko Reed and Adam H. Becker’s collection (The Ways that Never Parted), the writers show how the assumptions underlying the early “Parting of the Ways” model, which posited a definitive break between Christianity and Judaism from the first or second century AD, cannot now be sustained.
I want to make something clear which I think is fuzzy. Long before Reed and Becker put out this collection, my doktorvater Jarl Fossum and my adopted doktorvater Alan Segal argued that Christianity was a Jewish movement long after the first century. I have been a loud advocate for this position myself both in my writing and in my classroom. You will always hear me talk about the NT literature as Jewish literature. I am not arguing that Christianity or Judaism in the first century or the second century were not multiform. Nor am I of the opinion that Christianity quickly became distinct from Judaism.

Now, having said this, at the same time I do not sustain the opinion that there was no separation between Judaism and Christianity in the first century. The creation of two separate religions from one was gradual, but it happened at different "moments" for different communities of believers within the traditions. For instance, for communities dominated by Gentiles, this separation happened more quickly than it did for communities maintaining their Jewishness. It also happened for different reasons, as complex as they are, including social identity formation alongside the most argued reasons which are usually christological or torah-related or the framing of orthodoxy.

As for the model of Boyarin, Reed, and Becker, who argue for a very late separation (if any at all), this model is not embraced by all nor has it become standard. If you haven't had a chance to read Giorgio Jossa's work yet, I highly recommend it. His important Italian book on this subject has just been translated into English: Jews or Christians?. He puts the brakes on all of this, and reassesses how the arguments for pluriformity are being (mis) used. He takes us back to Paul and the gospels, and asks us to look again from the perspective of a sociologist. Although I quibble with him over various interpretative points, I truly appreciate his candor and his willingness to reassess the current trends in biblical scholarship. Most interesting is his last chapter on Roman perspectives of Jews and Christians, and how early (60s) that they began making clear distinctions between these groups, treating them very differently from each other.

Enough for today. Must get to my writing.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Jesus the Israelite?

As a response to some of my responders to my last post - My concern about the discussion is exactly the implication of Elliott's title: "Jesus the Israelite was neither a Jew nor a Christian." I don't want to see the distinction between Judaism in Galilee and Judaism in Judea move in the same direction as we saw when the feminist biblical scholars began arguing that Jesus supported women while the rest of the Jews of his time did not. Eventually Jesus was revolting against Judaism, a problem that Fiorenza had to deal with in her book In Memory of Her. I don't want to see the same mistake made here - that Jesus was a "good" Israelite from the north revolting against the "bad" Jews of the south.

The Galilean-Judean distinction that is being used by some scholars is not necessarily an emic enterprise as Deane suggests in her comments on my last entry. My observations suggest that it is etic. It appears to me to be a contemporary way for some scholars to call Jesus something other than "Jew" and to soften or deny the anti-semitism that was part of the Christian movement and is found in first-century Christian texts. If Jesus was only against Judeans in the south, then that lessens the anti-semitic nature of the gospels, especially John. Yes, I continue to have major concerns that scholarship on Jesus is largely about how unlike other Jews Jesus was. This is not an ad hominem argument! It is an actual observation, and it begs us to become introspective, to come to terms with our biases, Christian or otherwise.

I also have concerns that this enterprise is connected to Q and the now popular opinion among many North American scholars that it represents a lost Galilean form of Christianity that was in opposition to Jerusalem. The evidence for this is slim. Not only is this idea based on a minimally reconstructed hypothetical document, but its foundational argument lies in the cities named in the Q material. Honestly, what does this mean that Q names Galilean cities? Could it have to do with the fact that Jesus was from Nazareth and his mission was around this area until he went south bringing his message to Jerusalem? All his disciples ended up in Jerusalem - like Jesus they took a Galilean movement to Jerusalem.

Does Jesus' orientation as a Galilean make him opposed to the Judeans in the south? Was his brand of religion different from that in the south? Was he inclusive of Samaritans? Not if we take Matthew 10:5-6 seriously. He appears to me to have understood "Israel" to mean all Jews, northern and southern, but not Samaritans or Gentiles. His movement appears to me to have been about reconstituting the twelve tribes of Israel. The use of the word "Israel" is not a designation for the north, but the designation of the ideal nation of God's reconstituted people gathered together at the end times. So Jesus took his movement and twelve disciples south to Jerusalem, where he taught and probably got arrested because of a riot he caused at the Temple. Over what we can only guess. He may have had concerns like the Jews at Qumran that the Temple had been defiled. But if we take seriously his saying in Matthew 5:23-24 about taking your offering to the altar after you have been reconciled to the person you sinned against, it doesn't look like he was anti-Temple. His disciples certainly weren't. After Jesus' death, we hear from Luke that they taught regularly at the Temple and attended daily the prayers. James, the leader, was said to be so regular a temple-goer that he developed calluses on his knees because of his prayer posture.

As for "ethnic" Judaism, this is also an etic concept now in vogue. It is a taxonomy that is confusing at best. Ethnic Judaism is largely the consequence of secularism and WWII when agnosticism and atheism became real options for Jews. In the ancient world, to be Jewish involved the religious dimension: to be devotee of Yahweh, to be part of his covenant, to be recipients of his promises, to be observers of his law. So to use "ethnic" Judaism as a descriptor of the Second Temple Period runs amok because of its association with secularism.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Now Jesus is not Jewish?

I have been so busy with the start up of classes that I haven't been able to keep up with the blogging world. But both Loren and Geoff mention that scholars on one of the list serves are discussing that Jesus wasn't Jewish. Loren mentions also the article by Jack Elliott. Doug Chaplin has also posted on the subject.

What is happening to us? I thought that "Judaisms" was bad enough, but now are certain scholars moving in the direction of deconstructing Judaism so that it will not exist at all in the Second Temple period? And/or are they really trying to argue that Jesus cannot have been Jewish?!

In my opinion, this is either nonsense to try to say something original (and perhaps sell more books and confuse the public who are finally beginning to hear that Jesus was Jewish and not a Christian!) or nomenclature gone wild (thanks to post-modernity which lately has gripped our imaginations).

Whether Jesus was a Galilean or a Judean can be an interesting erudite discussion, but it means nothing in regard to whether or not Jesus was Jewish by our conventional definition of that term. Like his brothers and sister Jews who lived in the south, Jesus was a Torah-observant, Temple-oriented, apocalyptic teacher who felt very strongly that God's covenantal promises would be fulfilled in Israel. He kept Sabbath, celebrated the festivals, was kosher, and worshiped Yahweh.

I think that it is time for us to face up to Jesus' Jewishness, and ask ourselves why the some in the academy (which many of us are a part of) continue to want to deny, ignore or get around this.

SBL not an important venue for critique?

Again, I have to disagree with many of my good friends and those who have posted in the comments on my previous entries, that SBL is not the forum to critique the Pope's book.

Who attends SBL? Scholars of biblical literature and its cognate fields, ministers and other people of the cloth, graduate students and seminarians, editors and publishers. It is exactly these people who need to be discussing the Pope's book publically, and then returning home to talk to their parishioners and students about it. These are also the people who write books, articles, reviews, and speak to the media when called upon. It doesn't matter that SBL does not have a direct public audience. It is the direct scholarly, ministerial and student audience that will make the difference, who will individually bring the discussion back to their own enclaves in this world.

It is vital for the members of the Society of Biblical Literature to step up to the plate and address matters of the public and the bible. Much of what we do is erudite, but not all of it has to be. I think that as a Society, we must make a concerted effort to educate the public (beyond the classroom) about the academic study of religion - what it is about and how it is different from the doctrinal or theological study of religion. If we don't, we are only fostering the "religious illiteracy" of the public and its consequences (which reach deep within the political, social, economic, etc. spheres).

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Ignoring the Pope?

On some level I was not surprised to read in the comments to my last post that the Pope's book should just be ignored, that in some sense it doesn't deserve to be responded to. This book is not some fad. It is not pop literature. It is written by the Pope, a person that many people in this world consider to represent God's opinion. It doesn't matter that he said that he wrote it not as the Pope. He is the Pope and he published the book while Pope.

It is extremely important that the book be responded to by the scholarly community. I could not put it any better than Jim West who posted this comment on my entry:
"I don't think we can - with the wave of a hand - dismiss the Pope. Whether what he says is academically or exegetically correct, he is listened to by a LOT of people. It's the job of scholars to debunk inaccuracy, even if it flows from the pontifical pen. The ostrich approach (pretend it's not there and it will go away) just won't work."
Again, kudos to Gerd, and I hope that other scholars studying the historical Jesus will step up and respond in kind.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Critique of Ratzinger's Jesus

Professor Luedemann just sent me a copy of his excellent review article of the Pope's book. He gave me a link to his own website where you can read the review from Free Inquiry. He tells me that he will soon be publishing a full length book in English on this same subject. I will post information about it as he sends it to me.

There is sincere concern among a few scholars like Luedemann that the Pope's book is and will continue to be widely read. It calls for a serious critical response, which is what Luedemann has put together. I welcome Luedemann's critique and support him wholeheartedly in this endeavor. I hope that more scholars who work on the historical Jesus will step forward and add their own critical voice to this debate.

I find it disconcerting that no panel was assembled at the upcoming SBL to discuss Ratzinger's Jesus. Why this oversight?

Book Note: From Apocalypticism to Merkavah Mysticism (Andrei Orlov)

If you are interested in early Jewish mysticism and haven't seen this spectacular book yet, you should take a look even if it is at the library. It is a Brill volume, and a hefty one at that (483 pages). It is every bit as good as Orlov's first, The Metatron Enoch Tradition (Mohr Siebeck, 2005).

From Apocalypticism to Merkavah Mysticism
is a collection of previously published essays from Orlov's pen that examine Slavonic pseudepigrapha (2 Enoch, Apocalypse of Adam, Ladder of Jacob, 3 Baruch) in terms of their importance for the development of theophanic and angelological imagery crucial to early Jewish mysticism. He examines the traditions of exalted patriarchs: Enoch, Adam, Noah, Jacob, and Moses. These texts are normally not touched by scholars of Jewish mysticism, most likely because of the language barrier - how many knew or know Slavonic? So Orlov, whose scholarly love is mysticism, has overcome that barrier and brings his extensive knowledge of the mystical traditions into his analyses of the Slavonic materials.

But that is not all. If you are looking for a comprehensive bibliography on the Slavonic pseudepigrapha, you will find it here. It occupies the entire first part of Orlov's book, the first 100 pages.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Conference honoring Elliot Wolfson

At the end of October there is being planned a conference to honor Elliot Wolfson. Wolfson received an external faculty grant from the Rice Humanities Research Center to come to Rice this semester and teach a course on Jewish mysticism.

A symposium is being orchestrated to celebrate his work. It is called, "Venturing Beyond the Beyond: A Symposium on the Aesthetics and Hermeneutics of Elliot R. Wolfson." When and where? Friday, October 26-27, in the Kyle Morrow Room at Fondren Library.

I have submitted a presentation called, "'We have been sent out of the world': Gnosis and Religious Experience in Valentinian Christianity." Inspired by Wolfson's most recent article, "Inscribed in the book of the living," (JSJ 38: 2007, 234-271), the focus of this lecture will be understanding Gnosis as experiential, with particular attention paid to its liturgical and ritual aspects.

I will keep you posted in terms of all the speakers and times as those are put together by Marcia Brennan and Jeffrey Kripal, the symposium's hosts.