Saturday, January 1, 2011

Biblical Studies Carnaval - December lineup

The December Biblical Studies Blog Carnival is up. Take a look to see if your favorite posts made the lineup and discover some others you missed. Thanks to Joseph Kelly for putting together this month's carnival.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all my readers!

I started blogging in July and in less than 6 months I have had over 28,000 visits. Many thanks to all of you, wherever you live. I look forward to spending more time with you in 2011.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Reading through the Pseudepigrapha in a year

First year students in a New Testament Introduction class will often be introduced to a wealth of ancient literature that is not found between the covers of their Bible. Even if they are among the few who have a Bible with an apocrypha, they will not have those books normally categorized as the "Old Testament Pseudepigrapha." This corpus includes such books as Enoch, which although mentioned in the book of Jude, is not to be found anywhere in the Bible.

Yet, as many students of the New Testament soon discover, in order to understand much of the theology of the New Testament you must also be familiar with the thought and theology of the "intertestamental period" which is contained in the "Apocrypha," "Pseudepigrapha" and the Dead Sea Scrolls. But unless you take an elective in this vast corpus of literature, chances are you will only hear references here and there and never have a chance to read it. Many students will leave seminary having never seen a copy of the Pseudepigrapha much less read it. This is unfortunate, but understandable. This literature is not part of the Jewish or (Protestant) Christian canon. And there much more of it to read than there is Bible.

Whenever a student tells me that she or he wants to do a Ph.D. in New Testament I always recommend that they become familiar with the literature in the Pseudepigrapha. But this can be a daunting task in itself.

Thankfully, Joseph Kelly over at Kol-Ha-Adam has provided a calendar for reading through the Pseudepigrapha in a year (see below). It breaks down the books found in Charlesworth's two volume set and lists what to read on a given day. I may try this myself since, although I work in this literature constantly, I have not sat and read through it in quite a long time.

So here is a new year's resolution for you with a link to the calender and here is to a year of reading strange and esoteric literature.

Thanks to Joel Watts for pointing this out.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Is historical criticism a great enemy of preaching?

Anyone who has sat through a graduate/seminary level biblical studies class has invariably experienced a conflict between what they are being told about the Bible and what they were taught about the Bible through preaching. And as we become more and more familiar with the conclusions of higher biblical criticism, it sometimes becomes difficult to listen to preachers or even, perhaps, to be preachers ourselves. Our sources of knowledge seem to be at variance with one another.

My students will often ask me: "what the heck am I supposed to do with the text now that you have deconstructed it"? That is an excellent question which I am not sure that I always give the best answer. It will probably be a lifelong struggle for all of us.

Walter Brueggemann is an example of one who lives in both worlds. He is a biblical critic, but also an outstanding preacher who brings life to the Bible. One of my students, Ryan Gear, has posted a short clip in which Brueggemann suggests that historical criticism has become the enemy of preaching since it makes imagination impossible because it flattens the text by way of explanation. He suggests that preachers should value historical criticism, but put it in its place and move beyond it.

What do you think? Is historical criticism an enemy of preaching? Can the two reside and work together? Or, are they so at odds with one another that they are, in the words of Longfellow, "Two ships that pass in the night"?

How, if at all, do you incorporate the knowledge of historical criticism in your preaching and teaching?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New NIV Shoots to the Top.

The 2011 version of the NIV has been out for barely two months, but it is making big gains.

It is number 3 on Amazon ahead of other Bibles. But what makes this all the more interesting is that the print version has yet to be released. All sales at this point represent the digital rather than print version.

According to a USA Today report the digital version of the the new NIV is number one in the Apple store under the category of Religious/Spiritual and number 13 across all categories for Christmas week. In fact, Bible apps have recorded 1 million downloads over the last five months.

E-books are certainly the wave of the future and Zondervan, publisher of the NIV, has been quick to capitalize on this new market. E-book Bibles now represent 25% of their e-book sales.

The world is changing. It is now even easier for a person to carry a copy of the Bible with them wherever they go. They can have it on a laptop, an iPad, or a cellphone. The question is, will they read it?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Christian war on Christmas

Earlier this month I posted a piece on why I did not think Christians need to defend Christmas. Today, Allan Bevere, My colleague at Ashland Seminary, has a post recounting about the days when attacks on Christmas came not from the secular but the religious. Here is some of what he has to say.

"Shocking as it sounds, followers of Jesus Christ in both America and England helped pass laws making it illegal to observe Christmas, believing it was an insult to God to honor a day associated with ancient paganism," according to "Shocked by the Bible" (Thomas Nelson Inc, 2008). "Most Americans today are unaware that Christmas was banned in Boston from 1659 to 1681."

All Christmas activities, including dancing, seasonal plays, games, singing carols, cheerful celebration - and especially drinking - were banned by the Puritan-dominated Parliament of England in 1644, with the Puritans of New England following suit. Christmas was outlawed in Boston, and the Plymouth colony made celebrating Christmas a criminal offense, according to "Once Upon a Gospel" (Twenty-Third Publications, 2008).

Christmas trees and decorations were considered to be unholy pagan rituals, and the Puritans also banned traditional Christmas foods such as mince pies and pudding. Puritan laws required that stores and businesses remain open all day on Christmas, and town criers walked through the streets on Christmas Eve calling out "No Christmas, no Christmas!"

You can read the rest of the post over on Allan's blog.

Herod the Great or not so Great?

This being the Christmas season it is a perfect time to give some consideration to Herod the Great. Today is the day that the western church celebrates the feast of the innocents.

Herod is known to Christians through one incident and one only, the massacre of the innocents as recorded in Matthew 2:16-18. There we read that Herod, having been accidentally tipped off about Jesus' birth by the Magi, attempted to kill the newborn king of the Jews by killing all boys in the Bethlehem vicinity two years or younger. Herod dies in the next verse (2:19) and so does most Christians' knowledge and interest in the infamous Jewish king.

Well there are two articles in this week's news that will help you to learn more about Herod and perhaps even see another side of him.

The first is a description of the recently discovered tomb of Herod. Ehud Netzer, who died in October, has an article in Biblical Archaeology Review describing his lifelong search for Herod's tomb. The article not only describes the search for the tomb, it also fills-in some historical details about Herod's fascinating life. Although certainly not someone you would want to date your daughter, Herod was a brilliant builder, politician and statesman. Even if many of his accomplishments were powered by the edge of a sword.

The second article is by Geza Vermes in what is an attempt to rehabilitate Herod and help us to understand him in context. Here is the conclusion from Vermes' article.

In short, both Jewish and Christian traditions treat him as Herod the Terrible. The historian, however, is fully aware, despite Herod's grave shortcomings, of his unparalleled political and cultural accomplishments. In particular, his long friendship with Augustus was highly beneficial to the inhabitants of Judea and the Jewish religion. Moreover, while Herod enjoyed the enviable status of a "client king, friend of the Roman people", none of his descendants, if the short reign of Agrippa I (41-44 CE) is discarded, was sufficiently esteemed by Augustus and his successors to receive the title "king of the Jews". All in all, in view of these unquestionable achievements Herod deserves to be known as the one and only Herod the Great.

Thanks to Jim West for pointing out the Vermes article.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Celebrating 400 years of the King James Bible

I've mentioned before that Ashland Theological Seminary will be hosting a series of events celebrating the King James Bible. We will also have a museum with over 40 different items on display. We will be exhibiting such items as a fragment of the Dead
Sea Scrolls (200 BCE), Greek Exodus fragments (300 CE), a Torah Scroll (1492) and a number of Bibles some over 500 years old.

One of the local newspapers has run an article on the event. Strange that they would do so on Christmas day since I can't imagine that is one of the days that newspapers figure high on most people's agenda. But in any case, here is a piece from the Mansfield News Journal.

I'm back!

I have been away for the last ten days celebrating Christmas on a cruise in Western Caribbean. I am trying to get caught up on everything that has happened while I was gone, and plan to be back up to speed soon.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Matthew 2:1-12

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.