Friday, March 4, 2011

Friday Wrap Up

Here is a wrap up of some of this week's stories that you may have missed.

Craig Blomberg outlines why he thinks it is important to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

Ben Witherington talks about why he thinks the Gospels are historically reliable.

Curt Niccum has a short but informative piece on selecting a Bible translation.

There will no longer be any booty calls in the Bible! The Catholic Church is publishing an updated version of the New American Bible in which words like "booty" are to replaced. Apparently young people have a different mental image when they read about the armies of Israel collecting the "booty" of their enemies.

Also, the Pope is due to release a new book in which he exonerates the Jews from culpability in the death of Jesus. The article claims that he will deal with the controversial statement in Matthew 27:25 "Let his blood be upon us an dour Children." I wonder why it has taken him so long?

There has been a lot of rumblings over the last few weeks in reaction to Jennifer Knust's book Unprotected Texts in which she argues that the Bible's message on Sex is Surprisingly Mixed. This week Robert Gagnon, author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice, responds by arguing that the Bible's message on homosexuality is clear.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

How important is it that we read the Bible?

As a teenager, I had the opportunity to attend a variety of church functions designed for youth. We brought our Bibles to meetings and retreats and were encouraged to follow the speaker as they read/taught from the Bible. Not a bad thing in and of itself. But there were many times that a healthy basket size serving of guilt was handed out in the form of "if you don't read your Bible everyday you are not serious about your relationship with God." I remember one particular service where the preacher said "If the first thing you do in the morning is get a cup of coffee or take a shower before you pray and read your Bible, then the coffee or the shower is your God!" I was 18 and less than convinced by his argument. This was the beginning of my questioning of the admonishment towards daily Bible reading.

I suspect that some already had an answer to my question before even reading this post. They will answer "it's very mportant!" "We need/must read the Bible!" I am not suggesting that people not read the Bible, but I would like to step back and take a look at Bible reading and ask , is it more important that we read the Bible or is it more important that we know it? I would like to think out loud for a bit.

According to a Barna group survey, 90% of American households have at least one Bible. Many have at least three. I suspect the number in some households is closer to 6 to 10 Bibles. But in spite of the proliferation of Bibles, knowledge of the Bible's contents has taken a dive. Every year we read a new survey indicating that although people say that they think it is important to read the Bible, in practice, they don't.

The situation has become worrisome enough to some that they have launched a blog to battle biblical illiteracy. Emanating from BIOLA University, the Good Book Blog is an attempt by 30 seminary professors to help people become biblically literate.

I began to think about this topic, not for the first time, as I set up a museum for the seminary's celebration of 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. I was struck by the fact that, until the reformation, most copies of the Bible were never intended for personal use. Many of them were impractical for the average person to use. They were often large volumes that were made for Cathedrals, not local churches or the individual Christian, but for the major centers of Christianity.

The truth is, the vast majority of people did not own a Bible. In fact, many churches did not have a Bible. Prior to the invention of movable type, Bibles were copied by hand, which means they were expensive. If your church had a Bible you were very lucky indeed. And it was probably chained to the pulpit so no one would steal it.

There is an interesting scene in the most recent movie about Martin Luther as played by Joseph Fiennes. In the film, Luther's mentor, Johann von Staupitz, asks him if he had ever read the Bible. Luther replies "no" and Staupitz says "most priests haven't." It is an uncomfortable reminder that the level of interaction that we have with the printed Bible is a relatively new aspect of Christianity. The Bible was not widely available and therefore people did not read it.

Yet the world was steeped in the Bible. Although they did not read it their world was full of imagery from it. Art work both inside and outside of the church reflected people's knowledge of the Bible. Churches may not have owned a Bible, but the carvings, frescoes and statues communicated the message of the Bible to the people. Art was the peoples Bibles. Although they could not read it, they were very aware of it.

But now we live in a world where we can have the Bible either on a shelf, on a computer screen or a phone. Yet knowledge or familiarity with what is in the Bible is low. I don't want to suggest that everything prior to the invention of the printing press was rosy. But it does seem that we are victims of our own progress. Since Gutenberg and the Reformation we can all own a number of Bibles. But we seem to know and understand it even less. And yet, to hear some, we should be reading it everyday and to not is something akin to sin.

While I am glad to live in an age when the Bible is available to almost everyone in every place, I wonder to what end. Has our obsession with the Bible (and I am speaking as a biblical scholar) led to its seeming irrelevance in our life?

What do you think? How important is it that we read the Bible as opposed to knowing it?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Infertility and the Bible 7: Options Available to the Childless - Surrogacy

Last week we looked adoption practices in antiquity. This week we look at surrogacy.

Surrogate Mothers and Second Wives

If prayers and magic did not work and adoption, for whatever reason, was not an option, there was the possibility of surrogacy. Unlike today, however, this was not a matter of hiring someone to carry a child to term for the couple. The process involved the husband taking an additional wife. As noted above, numerous marriage contracts from antiquity contain the stipulation that if the wife does not bear children, the husband has the legal right to take another wife. But this is not simply a case of polygyny in which a man has multiple wives of equal status.[1] Rather this is more accurately described as polycoity whereby the first wife retains her status as the primary wife and the subsequent wife has a secondary status to that of the first.[2] The purpose of the secondary wife is for producing an heir within the household. Her status, however, does not make her the equal of the primary wife simply by providing an heir to the husband. She is still of a lower status than the first wife. This is demonstrated most clearly in the Law Code of Hammurabi §145 which states: “If a man take a wife, and she bear him no children, and he intend to take another wife: if he take this second wife, and bring her into the house, this second wife shall not be allowed equality with his (first) wife.”

The option of taking a secondary wife was an alternative primarily available to the wealthy.[3] It is difficult to conceive how a childless, peasant couple could afford to budget another adult into their economic situation. Or, what family was going to give their daughter to a man who was not only childless but also poor? Conversely, it was not always economically or socially advantageous for a man to marry a second wife. At the very least, a barren wife could help with running the household or working in the fields.[4] But a man could, in addition to his wife, have children with a concubine or one of his female slaves.[5] Furthermore, slaves were sometimes part of a woman’s dowry that she brought with her into the marriage agreement.[6] A childless woman could offer her personal handmaid to her husband as a way to produce an heir. The Law Code of Hammurabi §144 and 145 describes just such a situation and the biblical stories of Sarah, Rachel and Leah reveal that the Genesis narrator was aware of this possibility (Gen 16:1-3; 30:3, 9).[7] But this remedy was far from being complicated. On the one hand, it could potentially solve the inheritance problems connected with childlessness. On the other hand, it threatened to complicate the status issues facing the wife. The presence of another woman in the household who produced an heir meant that the division between slave and wife became intertwined and confused.

The handmaid was always of a lower status than that of the wife.[8] Although she might be in a sexual relationship with the husband she was not the primary wife. The giving of the handmaid to the husband for the purpose of bearing children complicated the situation, however, since she belonged to the wife, but was now also the husband’s other wife.[9] The female slave was the property of the owner and could, under normal circumstances, be exploited and disposed of like any other piece of property.[10] But when the slave/master relationship resulted in motherhood, the female slave was afforded some protection from the regular status of property. According to LH §171, a slave who had borne her master children was to be released after his death. Furthermore, LH §146-147 discusses the case of a wife who gives her handmaid to her husband.

If a man takes a wife and she gives this man a maid-servant as a wife and she bears him children, and then this maid makes herself equal with the wife, because she has borne him children, her master shall not sell her for money, but he may keep her as a slave, reckoning her among the maid-servants. If she has not borne him children, then her mistress may sell her for money.

These stipulations demonstrate that the introduction of motherhood potentially alters the status of the slave. Raymond Westbrook has described the child-bearing slave woman as possessing a split-legal personality. She remains the slave of her mistress while becoming the wife of the latter’s husband. The primary wife loses some of her rights over the slave.[11] She can discipline her by reducing her status within the household, but she can no longer sell her since the introduction of motherhood has altered her status and there is a tangible relationship between the handmaid and the husband as evidenced by the child. Although a slave, she is still a wife, but the dividing line between these two statuses is not always clear. As a result her status is somewhat ambiguous since she cannot claim the rights and benefits of a wife, but she also cannot be disposed of in the same way as that of any other slave. Thus, motherhood brought a change in status to the female slave.[12]

At this point it is important to signal caution when reading the above legal codes. It would be incorrect to suggest that the codes were somehow descriptive of what always happened. The codes, more than likely, reveal an ideal principle rather than a fixed practice. Indeed, marriage contracts demonstrate instances when a wife retained the right to give her husband her handmaid to produce offspring and then to sell the slave.[13] Such a condition in the contract is probably designed to overcome the type of restraint described in LH §146-147. But even if the legal codes were not always followed, they do represent a window into social perceptions about female slaves that have borne their masters children. Motherhood brought about a change in status to the slave. She was still a slave and under the power of her master and/or mistress, but she was afforded certain protections based on her newly attained status. Consequently, the female slave who bore children to her master had an ambiguous status. Like her childless mistress, she held a position in the household but was not guaranteed the full protection and benefits of one who was the primary wife. By giving her handmaid to her husband, the childless wife projected her own ambiguous status onto her slave by gaining a child through her while at the same time creating a split legal personality for the slave. The handmaid was the slave of the wife, wife of the husband, mother of the heir, but not able to benefit fully from her relationship with the husband or her son’s status as heir.

In sum, surrogacy was one way of solving the challenges of childlessness that created new problems within the household. The childless wife could secure her position within the household by giving her handmaid to her husband to produce an heir. But this resulted in the wife’s ambiguous status being projected onto the slave woman. Although she produced an heir, she is not the mistress of the house and her son holds a separate status. She is protected in that she cannot be sold, but she can be treated harshly and find herself demoted within the household order. Her son is the heir, but she gains nothing from that status. Her status is ambiguous. She is a slave that cannot be sold, a wife who has no power and a mother who will not be supported by her son. Under the stipulations outlined above, she is relegated to living as a slave and then released whenever her master, the father of her son, dies.

[1] Steinberg, Kinship and Marriage, 15.

[2] Sakenfeld, Just Wives, 12.

[3] Marsman, Women in Ugarit and Israel, 192.

[4] Katarzyna Gorsz, “Dowry and Brideprice in Nuzi,” in Studies on the Civilization and Culture of Nuzu, M. Morrison and D. Owen (ed.) (Winnona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1981), 181.

[5] It is not clear that concubines were always slaves. In the Hebrew Bible, the designation seems to refer to a wife of secondary status (M.E. Shields, “Concubine,” NIDB, 1:713-14).

[6] Marsman, Women in Ugarit and Israel, 105.

[7] LH §144 “If a man take a wife and this woman gives to her husband a maid-servant, and she bear him children, but this man wishes to take another wife, this shall not be permitted to him; he shall not take a second wife.”

[8] Marsman, Women in Ugarit and Israel,123.

[9] Marsman, Women in Ugarit and Israel,144, 442.

[10] Westbrook, “The Female Slave,” 215.

[11] Westbrook, “The Female Slave,” 215, 228.

[12] W Another piece of relevant information demonstrating how motherhood alters the status of the female slave is found in LH §119. The line describes what happens if a man sells his female slave to repay a debt. If he sells her, he is obligated to go back and redeem her from her new master and set her free. “If any one fails to meet a claim for debt, and sells the maid servant who has borne him children, for money, the money which the merchant has paid shall be repaid to him by the owner of the slave and she shall be freed”. Westbrook notes that while the right of redemption was widespread in the ANE, it was normally applied to family members, not slaves. But when the slave had borne children to the master, her status was altered to such a degree that, although still a slave, she was sufficiently regarded as a member of the family so as to benefit from the privilege of redemption. (Westbrook, “The Female Slave,” 217).

[13] Westbrook, “The Female Slave,” 216.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

February Biblical Studies Carnival

Matthew Crowe over at A Fistful of Farthings has posted the February Biblical Studies Carnival. Stop by and check out the impressive list of topics that bloggers posted on last month.

The Blasphemies of John Dominic Crossan

John Dominic Crossan is nothing if not provocative. I have commented on here before that agree or disagree with him, love him or hate him, he has raised the profile of Jesus scholarship over the last 30 years.

Crossan is intentionality provocative. He is this way because this is how he thinks of Jesus. A first-century Jewish peasant challenging the status quo. He is a former Catholic priest who grew up in Ireland and has experienced firsthand the negative effects of empire. He is used some of personal matrix as a paradigm for interpreting the teachings of Jesus.

Not everyone has held Crossan in esteem. In an article at CNN titled The Blasphemous Portrait of Jesus he notes that his first ever "fan letter" said "If well were not already created it should be invented just for you." Others have called him things like "demonic" or "blasphemous." Not exactly the kind of charitable, Christian talk one would expect from the followers of Jesus. But Crossan does describe himself as a Christian, much to the objections of his detractors. Here is what the article has to say about Crossan's stand on faith and being a Jesus scholar.

Crossan is also reviled in a way that few scholars are.

Some critics say he's trying to debunk Christianity. Some question his personal faith. At a college lecture, Crossan says an audience member stood up and asked him if he had "received the Lord Jesus" as his savior.

Crossan said he had, but refused to repeat his questioner's evangelical language to describe his conversion.

"I wasn't going to give him the language; it's not my language," Crossan says. "I wasn't trying to denigrate him, but don't think you have the monopoly on the language of Christianity."

When asked if he is a Christian, Crossan doesn't hesitate.


Crossan says he never planned to be a Jesus scholar but was drafted to play that role -- by the Roman Catholic Church.

The article gives an overview of Corssan's life and helps you to understand, perhaps just a little bit, where he is coming from. It is worth a read. As I said above, whatever you may think of John Dominic Crossan's schoalrship and conclusions, he was certainly made the field of New Testament studies a lot more exciting over the last 30 years.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Gospels as Histories: Richard Bauckham Lectures

Richard Bauckham is on a US speaking tour talking about the Gospels as Histories. For those of you not familiar with Bauckham's work, he is formerly of the University of Saint Andrews and is now spending his retirement years in Cambridge.

Bauckham has made a number of important contributions to New Testament studies. Over the last few years his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony has been getting a lot of attention.

Last week Bauckham was at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to give a series of talks. Below are the videos from his lectures. You can watch the here or at the SBTS Resource Site. Many, many thanks to Bill Heroman over at NT/History Blog for pointing these out. Each lecture is just over an hour long.

The Gospels as Historical Biography

The Gospels as History from Below Part 1

The Gospels from History Below Part 2

The Gospels as Micro-History and Perspectival History