Saturday, September 4, 2010

Quote of the Day

"The occupational hazard of liberal Christians is to leave open questions the Bible closes, and of conservative Christians to close questions the Bible leaves open." - Clark Pinnock

Pinnock died on August 15th. Whether or not you agree with his conclusions, he caused us to rethink many of the things we took for granted. We are all better because of the questions he asked.

Friday, September 3, 2010

And Now, Something For the Ladies

Israeli authorities have announced the discovery of a cameo bearing the image of cupid. The press release gives these details:

Israeli archaeologists have unveiled a 2,000-year-old semi-precious cameo bearing the image of Cupid from the City of David.

The Israel Antiquities Authorities (IAA) said the item was among several that were found in the archaeological area in Jerusalem's Old City in the last 12 months.

The cameo, which will be displayed at the 11th Annual City of David Archaeology Conference scheduled to take place later this week, is 1 cm in length and 0.7 cm in width.

It was discovered in the Givati Parking Lot Excavation, a part of the Jerusalem Walls National Park.

The excavation was conducted by the organization under the direction of Dr. Doron Ben Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets and funded by the Ir David Foundation.

"The cameo was made from two layers of semi-precious onyx stone. The upper layer, into which the image of cupid is engraved is a striking blue colour which contrasts with the dark brown background colour of the lower layer," quoted Dr. Doron Ben Ami, of the IAA, as saying.

"The brown layer is the side of the cameo which would have been inserted into the round metal setting of a piece of jewellery, apparently an earring.

"Cupid's left hand is resting on an upside-down torch which symbolizes the cessation of life.

"The discovery, together with other important finds that we uncovered from this unusual large Roman structure at the City of David, contribute significantly to our understanding of the nature of Jerusalem's Roman Period," Ben Ami added.

The IAA statement added that the inlaid stone was of the "Eros in mourning" type, one of a group of visual motifs linked with the imagery of mourning practices. (ANI)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Jesus Seminar Marks 25 Years

There are few people who are interested in the Bible and have not heard of the Jesus Seminar. This group of hypercritical New Testament scholars has been featured on the pages 0f various news magazines and in numerous television shows. They are probably best known for their use of colored beads to determine whether or not a saying of Jesus in the Gospels is authentic or not.

Red beads – indicated the voter believed Jesus did say the passage quoted, or something very much like the passage.

Pink beads – indicated the voter believed Jesus probably said something like the passage.

Grey beads – indicated the voter believed Jesus did not say the passage, but it contains Jesus' ideas.

Black beads – indicated the voter believed Jesus did not say the passage—it comes from later admirers or a different tradition.

These folks have generated a lot of controversy over the years. But whether you agree with them or not, they have done a lot for elevating biblical scholarship in society. Although I do not subscribe to their methodology and sometimes groan at their conclusions, these people do play an important part in the give and take of New Testament interpretation. They make us frustrated, mad and sometimes make us want to shout at the TV. But they also make us think! Without people provoking us, prodding us, and challenging us the field of biblical studies would be pretty boring and there would be little impetus for us to look at things from different angles and with new methodologies.

So as the seminar celebrates 25 years let’s hear it for critical scholarship and the way it makes us better interpreters of the Bible.

Does Anyone Read the Bible Anymore?

I confess that I have never read a software license through to the end. Oh I tried one or twice. But after trying to be a conscientious and informed end user I gave up, clicked I agree and got on with the installation. I don't know how many programs I have loaded over the years, but I do know that my default response every time is, "yes, I agree". Sooner or later this is going to come back to haunt me and I will end up owing someone everything I own because I did not read the small print.

Today's picture and saying is borrowed from Jame McGrath. At first I did no think much about it, but then the more I pondered it the more I realized how true it is. Many who identify themselves as Christians know very little of the Bible. They claim to know it, but in truth anything they know is secondhand knowledge from a pastor, television, and other sources. The Bible has a mythical status in our society, but few really know what is in it. And even they do know a verse or a story chances are they do not know the wider context or perhaps where to find it. We are a society that is biblically illiterate.

Unfortunately this is not just a problem among the laity. The level of biblical illiteracy in the average incoming seminary student is astounding. I am constantly surprised how little people training for the ministry actually know about the Bible. I am not talking about critical issues. No, its the basic stuff. Most people have a few stories that they know, but probably have never read. I remember a student in one class who was shocked to read about the strange clothing John the Baptist wore. The student had never read this before! Is this not basic Sunday school material?

I am not sure what is the root of the problem. Maybe it has always been like this and I have always had an unusually odd level of biblical knowledge. But if a group is going to claim that the Bible is the source of their authority you would think they would actually be somewhat familiar with it. But then again, I imagine there are few Americans who have ever read the US Constitution.

I suppose part of the problem is that we often approach the Bible to see what we can get from it. We are looking for promises, answers, etc. But how often do we read it just to be familiar with it?Perhaps if we knew more of it we would be more careful how we use it. But the fact is most of us simply swallow whole what someone else tells us is in the Bible and we hit the button that says "I agree load it up." I wonder how different society might be if the people who claim to be living "according to biblical principles" actually had read some of it.

What do you think? I am off base here or have you noticed a growing biblical illiteracy among people identifying themselves as Christians? Is there an identifiable root cause?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Bible - A Video Game?

This came across the news the other day. Apparently there is a company about to release a multi-player video game that allows players to witness and reenact the stories of the Bible. Sound like something that you want to buy for little Johnny or Mary so they can really experience the world of the Bible? Think again. This is how it was described on one gaming site.

If you've ever read all the rape, genocide and deep-seated racism in The Bible and thought to yourself, "Man, that sounds like my kind of world," then this is the game for you! The Bible Online allows players to "slip into the role of Abraham and his descendants and have the opportunity to reenact and witness the incidents of their times."

The game is going to be split into chapters with The Heroes being the first released. The basic setup is that of an MMO strategy game, where players control their own tribe, build a city, and naturally wage war in the name of God. It won't be a case of holding onto territory, however, as the ultimate goal is leading one's band of merry savages into the promised land.

I find this disturbing. When I first saw the news about the game I had not read the above. I was already wondering what this kind of game would teach people, especially children. Will they reenact the slaughter of the people of Canaan at the hands of Joshua and the Israelites? What about the story of the Levite and his concubine from the book of Judges?

It is hard enough to make sense of much of the violence in the Bible without having a game that encourages kids (and adults) to reenact it. We live in a Post-Holocaust world and there has been a lot of work by Old Testament scholars to try and figure out how we make sense of the genocide that takes place in the Bible. My colleague, Dan Hawk, is one who wrestles with this question. I am not sure games like this will help us.

What do you think? I am wrong here? Should this kind of approach to the Bible be encouraged?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Christianity in the Greco-Roman World: A Narrative Introduction

One challenge confronting every reader of the Bible is the encounter with a foreign culture. Most American households own several Bibles and since it is so much a part of the fabric of society, it is easy to forget that the Bible was not written in the 20th century. All readers of the Bible, from the lay person to the seminary student to the scholar will read passages that at times do not make sense in our modern setting. While not everyone may like or want to learn ancient history, we all must engage it at some level if we are going to read the Bible. The problem, though, is where to find a resource that not only provides the needed information, but does so in an accessible format. Moyer Hubbard’s Christianity in the Greco-Roman World: A Narrative Introduction (Hendrickson, 2010) fits the bill.

There are already a number of good resources available to those who want to learn more about the first-century setting of Christianity. What sets Hubbard’s book apart from all others, however, is the fictional narrative that he weaves between the pages to help draw the reader into the Greco-Roman world. Rather than just present a grocery list of things that students of the New Testament should know, Hubbard brings that world to life through a fictional account of a household located in Chenchreae, a town six miles outside of Corinth. As readers enter into the life of the household they experience the setting of ancient Corinth. We learn what it was like to live as a slave in the household of an upwardly mobile Roman. We gain some familiarity with the various religions and philosophies vying for one’s attention. And we catch a glimpse of the challenge of being a Christian sect in such an environment.

The book is divided into four chapters each of which covers a set of topics important for any interpreter of the New Testament: (1) Religion and Superstition, (2) Education, Philosophy, and oratory, (3) City and Society, and (4) Household and Family. Each chapter begins with a fictional narrative that introduces the reader to the first-century setting whether it is a slave girl travelling to Corinth, a pair of debating philosophers, a group of Romans politicking in the bathhouse, or some women making their way to a local meeting of the church. After the narrative section readers are presented with a competent explanation of the chapter’s topic. Once the information has been covered, Hubbard reflects on the letters and actions of Paul in that context. Each chapter concludes with lists of primary and secondary sources that will help the reader to investigate further.

Hubbard is to be commended for this creative approach to teaching culture and history. My own experience confirms that story can be a powerful medium for drawing students into the world of the Bible. In the past I have required my students to read the fictional works by Theissen and Longenecker as way to experience the world of Jesus and Paul. Hubbard’s contribution will be even more helpful because it brings both story and curriculum together. I anticipate this volume will be on many textbook lists. But it will also be helpful for the interested layperson. Hubbard’s style makes this an accessible volume for many interested in the Greco-Roman world.

If I have any suggestions for the volume it is that it needs more fiction. I realize that this was not Hubbard’s purpose. But I found myself wanting to know more about the characters he created. What happens to them? Perhaps it is not a complaint but more of a request. I hope Hubbard will one day write a fiction novel that continues to teach us about life in the first-century.