Friday, February 25, 2011
Thursday, February 24, 2011
I was in seminary when I first became aware of Black History Month. It's not that I had not heard of it before, but I was, for the first time, in a setting that allowed me to come in contact with African Americans on a daily basis. In spite of growing up on Long Island, I'd had few meaningful encounters with African Americans up to that point.
While at seminary I become close friends with another divinity student who is black. He was generous and patient with me as he helped me to slowly, like an onion, begin to peel back the layers of assumptions, ignorance and prejudice, most of which I did not realize was there.
When February came around one year I asked him why there was a Black History Month? Should there not also be a White History month? His answer was twofold. First, he pointed out to me that every other month of the year is white history month. He also told me that Black History Month was not for him but for me. He was aware of his own history, but it was an opportunity for me to learn about his history in this country.
The process that began at seminary has continued. And each year another layer of assumptions, ignorance and prejudice is peeled away. I have learned and come to appreciate the distinctive experience and voice that belongs to black Americans so much so that I included a chapter on African American reposes to Paul and Slavery in my book Recent Research on Paul and Slavery.
So with this in mind I decided to offer a tribute today to African American biblical scholars. Below are two lists. The first comes from the contributors to Stony the Road We Trod. These were, in many ways, pioneers who helped to raise up the voices and scholarship of African American biblical scholars.
The Second list comes from pages 559-560 of True to Our Native Land. This is the most up-to-date list that I have. If anyone is aware of a more recent list please let me know. I have also tried to find and include links for each name. I have found many, but not all. If you have a better link or one that I don't, please let me know.
In 1990, Stony the Road We Trod was published under the editorship of Cain Hope Felder. This is a landmark work in African American scholarship that helped to set the tone for the next decade. The book, the result of a series of meetings between black biblical scholars and theologians between 1986 and 1989, marked the first time a group of African American scholars collaborated on a major contribution to biblical studies. Here are those contributors.
In 2007 African American scholars published True to our Native Land, a commentary on the New Testament from an African American point-of-view. The scholars below are contibutors and/or those listed on pages 559-560.
I am thankful for these people. In spite of the numerous challenges they have faced, they have offered a contribution to the field that deserves our attention.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
When prayers, medicine and magic did not work the childless couple might choose to adopt. Since the ultimate function of marriage was to produce an heir, adopting a son was one way to fill that need. A number of adoption contracts from Nippur reveal how widespread this practice was. One damaged tablet reads: “[ ] son of Inanna- [ ] has adopted as his son (or has been adopted as a son by) [ ] son of Siyatum and had made him his heir” (SAOC 44 10). Another contract relates how a husband and wife adopted two brothers as their heirs. The contract specifies that the older brother will get a preferential share first, and then the rest will be divided between the two brothers. A stipulation is included, however, stating that if the two brothers should ever say “You are not our father, you are not my mother”, the inheritance would be forfeited. Similarly, if the adoptive parents should declare “you are not our sons” they forfeit their house and lands and pay a fine (BE 6/2 24).
Another contract containing similar stipulations provides a smaller fine against the parents should they break the contract, but the penalty for the adopted son is more severe. If he should say “You are not my father, you are not my mother,” they will shave him and place a slave mark on him and sell him for silver (BE 6/2 57). While providing homes for orphans was certainly one aspect of adoption in Nippur, it is clear from many of the contracts that adoption was also motivated by economics. A childless couple found a son to retain their property and the child, depending upon his previous socio-economic background, found an opportunity for social mobility. But the penalty stipulations also reveal how seriously the agreement was considered. To have a rejection of such an agreement meant possible social and economic ruin.
Adoption was also common in Egypt and there is a particularly interesting story about a childless Egyptian couple found among the Adoption Papyri. Instead of adopting a son an Egyptian husband, Nebnofre, adopted his wife, Rennofre, making her the sole heir to his property and thus protecting her from social and financial disaster when he died. Rennofre, in turn, manumitted and adopted three children of her female slave. The oldest girl she married to her brother, whom she also adopted. All four children were then allotted equal shares of the inheritance and her brother (now also her son) was charged to care for her in her old age. This adoption story demonstrates the shrewd means to which some couples would go to protect their inheritance. By adopting the slave girl and marrying her to her brother, Rennofre found a way to keep the property within the family while at the same time providing for herself, a childless widow.
Since adoption was a widely used legal institution throughout the ancient world it is somewhat surprising that it is hardly mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. While the New Testament uses specific adoption terminology to explain metaphoric usages of the institution, the Hebrew Bible has no such equivalent.
Unlike the Law code of Hammurabi there are no legal stipulations listed for adoption and there are only two cases in which an adoptive relationship is described and both of these are in the context of a foreign setting. In Exodus 2:10 Moses is adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and in Esther 2:7 we read that Mordecai raised his niece while exiled in Persia. But the details in both situations make these cases unusual. Moses is not an orphan when he is taken to live as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Moreover, he is cared for by his own sister and mother until he is weaned (Ex 2:7-8). Esther is an orphan, but she is raised by an uncle and thus still part of her parent’s family. Added to these is Abraham’s choice of his servant Eliezer of Damascus as heir apparent. The story provides further evidence from the Bible that adoption was an acceptable or at least known method for circumventing the challenges of childlessness (Gen 15:2). But this part of Abraham’s story is only included to reveal God’s promise that Abraham would have a son and that Eliezer would not be Abraham’s heir (Gen 15:4). Consequently, while adoption is attested in the Hebrew Bible, it is not presented as an alternative to childlessness. As noted in the introduction, the only alternative is divine intervention.
Next week we will look at surrogacy.
 Elizabeth Caecilia Stone and David I. Owen, Adoption in Old Babylonian Nippur and the Archive of Mannum-mešu-lissur. (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1991), 43.
 Stone and Owen, Adoption in Old Babylonian Nippur, 46.
 Stone and Owen, Adoption in Old Babylonian Nippur, 47-48.
 Stone and Owen, Adoption in Old Babylonian Nippur, 33.
 The Law codes of Hammurabi, which provide protection for the adoptee, provide insight into who were the candidates for adoption. The sons that have been adopted are not necessarily orphans. Line 185 stipulates that once a son has been given up for adoption, he cannot be demanded back. But if that son should injure his adoptive parents, then he will be sent back to his father (§186). On the other hand, if the adoptive parents do not care for the son then he may go back to his father (§190). That these sons are not orphans indicates the economic and social function of adoption. If the adoptive parents are childless, adopting a son provides them with the needed heir.
 Some have suggested that the children were fathered with the slave by Rennofre’s husband, Nebnofre (R.M Janssen, J.J. Janssen, Getting Old in Ancient Egypt, [London: Stacey/Rubicon, 1996], 88).
 Marsman, Women in Ugarit and Israel, 207, 442).
 Westbrook and Wells, Everyday Law in Biblical Israel, 65.
 Mary Foskett, “Adoption,” NIDB 1:54.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Ordained minister Rossing is ready to do battle with evangelicals both within and outside of her Lutheran Church camp. Rossing, who teaches New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, begins her sparring by taking on the widely popular Left Behind series and all it presumes to communicate about the future of the world. Claiming that the Left Behind authors' interpretation of prophetic biblical verses is "fiction," Rossing firmly asserts that the Book of Revelation has a completely different purpose than to predict upcoming world uprisings and the eventual end of the earth. Instead, Rossing believes that this biblical vision is meant to inspire humanity to seek out "repentance and justice." Rossing also maintains, somewhat unfairly, that rapture enthusiasts extol a careless, abusive attitude toward God's created world, since rapture theology declares that the followers of Christ are soon to be removed from it. More significant is Rossing's belief that Revelation does not offer a prophetic look at Jerusalem as the inevitable battleground between good and evil, but rather extends the promise of a New Jerusalem that will open its arms to all nations in peace. While Rossing's scholarly work is well organized and obviously carefully thought out, evangelicals may take issue with the blanket statement that "most Christian churches and biblical scholars condemn Rapture theology as a distortion of Christian faith with little biblical basis." This book will likely upset Christian conservatives while appealing to many in mainline denominations.
Monday, February 21, 2011
- Know the Bible, thoroughly, in the original languages.
- Learn how to pray, for the world and its people.
- Learn how to love people.