Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Wrap up

Here is some stuff I ran across that you might have missed this week.

Joe Lunceford has a piece on women in 1 Timothy 3:11. Should it be translated Wives, Women or Deaconess?

In light of all the hub bub surrounding Rob Bell's new book, Michael Bird has posted some Thoughts on Universalism.

Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Seminary, has also responded to Bell's book.

And Ben Witherington concludes that there is a hell and that Love Does Not Always Win.

James McGrath notes that you can take Aramaic online from the Arshama Project.

Joel Green has pointed out some some articles on Catalyst that help you to chose resources for building a good biblical studies library.

Phil Vanderploeg has a nice review of Susannah Heschel's The Aryan Jesus:Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany. Phil does a good job of summarizing the book.

My Invention of the Rapture post has proven to be quite popular (I am always amazed and a bit disappointed at what rises to the top). Similarly, Ian Paul over at Psephizo has a good post in which he tackles two of the most often used biblical passages to support the rapture theory and tells us why they do not support any such theory.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

My New Book on Cain and Abel is out!

Please forgive me while I celebrate the release of my new book.

Here is the description:

The story of Cain and Abel narrates the primeval events associated with the beginnings of the world and humanity. But the presence of linguistic and grammatical ambiguities coupled with narrative gaps provided translators and interpreters with a number of points of departure for expanding the story. The result is a number of well established and interpretive traditions shared between Jewish and Christian literature. This book focuses on how the interpretive traditions derived from Genesis 4 exerted significant influence on Jewish and Christian authors who knew rewritten versions of the story. The goal is to help readers appreciate these traditions within the broader interpretive context rather than within the narrow confines of the canon.

The best part is that you can own a copy of this marvelous work for the princely sum of only $146! Please buy multiple copies and help me make it a best seller. J

God and the Tsunami

It had to happen sooner or later. Someone, somewhere was bound to tie the tsunami to God's wrath or judgment. But I was surprised at the source. A governor in Japan said that the tsunami was divine retribution for Japanese egoism. Not surprisingly, he has since apologized, largely because he wants to be reelected next year.

I have not heard of anyone in the USA making similar statements, but I am sure it is only a matter of time. I did, however, run across this on facebook.

Sept 11 (NY) Jan 11 (Haiti) and March 11 (Japan)....Luke 21:10-11 Then Jesus said to his disciples: "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines & pestilences in various places, & fearful events & great signs from heaven. Jesus says for behold I come quickly, so ask yourself are you ready? Sad to say many won't broadcast this message

It is a rather strange linkage made by the 11th day of the month. September 11th was a terrorist attack and Haiti and Japan were natural disasters. I suppose if they were consistent they should also include the Madrid bombings which happened on March 11th, 2004. At least then they would have two terror attacks and two natural disasters. But what about the 2004 tsunami that hit on December 26th? Does this one not count since it did not happen on the 11th day of the month? This type of reading and use of the Bible is less than helpful and suggests a lack of appreciation for how we read scripture.

At this time I think it is helpful to recall some of the points made by Terence Fretheim in his book Creation Untamed: The Bible God and Natural Disasters, which I reviewed on this blog in the fall.

The first thing that Fretheim reminds us is that God created the world good, not perfect, if by that we mean finished, free from suffering and without need of improvement. Fretheim points out that the command to "subdue" the earth (Gen 1:28) suggests that there is an inherent lack of order that needs to be constructed within creation, and God expects the creatures to do it (p. 31). In conjunction with this is the need for creation to participate in the act of creation. The earth is to bring forth plants, seed and vegetation (Gen 1:11-13). Creatures, human or otherwise, are to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:22, 28). Thus, although creation is "good" it is not perfect in that there is nothing for the created to do. The process of creation continues through the created.

At the same time, natural disasters are a part of the order of creation and sometimes they are made even worse by humans. Fretheim outlines a view of creation that understands everything as interconnected. Natural disasters are not a result of sin, he argues, but are part of God's creation. But when sin is introduced into this equation, it generates "snowballing effects" (p.53). While Fretheim is careful not to absolve God of all responsibility for these disasters, he does suggest that God's world is "unpredictable, random, and wild." Human suffering may sometime come because of the reality of that world. On the other hand, human wickedness can make those disasters even worse (p. 64).

Of course, as humanity continues to "advance" we tend to build things on fault lines, and nuclear power plants and other aspects of human creation then come into conflict with God's good but less than perfect creation. When that happens the disasters are magnified. We live in a less than perfect world and the human propensity to think we are invincible makes us think that we can overcome all the elements of nature. Then something like Friday's tsunami reminds us that we are the created and not the creator.

I think it is fair, as does Fretheim, to ask where God is in the tsunami. But we certainly can't cast blame upon God. Nor should we be so eager to see such disasters as God's judgement. If we are going to suggest that the tsunami is God's wrath we need to ask why God did not, for instance, send a tsunami against Nazi Germany or the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Or why God has not wiped us out for some of the evil that we have helped to perpetuate in the world.

During such times of disaster, natural and human made, it is important that the answers we seek are to questions of how can we relieve the suffering of those affected. Rather than scouring the Bible for verses that seem to create a mystical road map to the end of the world marked by disasters, we should instead be asking what God would have us to do.

For a people who claim to be "of the book" we pay remarkably little attention to what it is the book and the God behind the book asks us to do.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Infertility and the Bible 8: The Plight of the Childless Widow - Part 2

Last week we looked at the difficult social and economic position of a woman who is both childless and a widow. This week we explore the options available to her.

While a widow with children had few options, the options available to the childless widow were even fewer. Without a male representative to arbitrate her way in society, the childless widow was at a severe disadvantage. She may have been able to access her dowry, but it is doubtful whether she would have been able to support herself.[1] In Nuzi, for instance, living off of a dowry was probably not an option for a widow. The dowry was a pre-mortem inheritance given to the bride, but was only a token inheritance and did not form the basis for an independent existence.[2] Thus, the best option for her was to either remarry or find a way to bear a son even though her husband was dead.

One option that is well attested in the ancient world was that of levirate marriage. Coming from the Latin levir for “brother-in-law”, this custom prescribed that when a man died without leaving any children behind, sons in particular, the brother of the deceased was responsible for providing the widow with a male heir.[3] The custom was practiced by the Hittites, is attested among documents from Ugarit, and given legal justification in a number of Middle Assyrian laws.[4] It is also referenced in the New Testament when the Sadducees question Jesus about a childless woman who married and buried a total of six husbands, all of them brothers (Mat 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-40).

The Hebrew Bible contains a description of this practice in Deuteronomy 25 and the stories of Tamar (Gen 38) and Ruth each illustrate a form of the custom being practiced. According to Deuteronomy 25:5, the custom is triggered when a man dies without leaving a son behind. The focus on the lack of a son suggests that the law would still be in effect even if the dead man left behind a daughter.[5] The woman in question, therefore, is a widow in a particular sense. She is without a male, an heir to her husband’s property, to protect her and care for her and the dead man’s legacy. Deuteronomy also stipulates that the firstborn son from the relationship between the widow and the brother-in-law will succeed in the dead man’s name so as not to “blot out his name from Israel” (25:6).

It seems that the notion of preserving the dead man’s name has more to do with the preservation of his property than his memory. Although the firstborn son of the levir may not take the dead man’s name, he was the heir to his property. This means that a levir would father a child, who stood to inherit his own brother’s property, and yet not benefit from the inheritance. In other words, the levir would be responsible for marrying his dead brother’s widow, providing an heir to her, caring for both mother and son, but not be in control of the property, which presumably he is managing until the son is of age. In such a situation, one could understand why a potential levir might not want to perform such a service. Indeed, the desire for personal gain might also enter the picture. According to Numbers 27:5-11 the brother-in-law of a childless widow stood to gain by being the next in line to inherit the dead man’s wealth.[6] The possibility of such self-interest getting in the way is probably what Deuteronomy has in mind when it allows the widow to publically shame the man who refuses to perform his duty as levir (25:7-10). This would perhaps serve as a deterrent intended to prevent an unscrupulous man from taking advantage of his brother’s widow by positioning himself as the most eligible heir.

The purpose of the law, then, was not only to provide the dead man with an heir but to provide the widow with a son who could inherit her husband’s property and serve as her protector and benefactor. Levirate marriage represented a social mechanism that provided the childless widow a way to be freed from her ambiguous status. The custom produced an heir and gave to the woman the one thing that she had lacked while her husband was alive; a secure place within her husband’s household. A woman’s status within the household depended upon her reproductive role, and until she fulfilled that role she was an outsider to her husband’s family. Levirate marriage is a posthumous recognition of her place within that home.

[1] Hiebert, “The Biblical Widow,” 137.

[2]Grosz, “Dowry and Brideprice”, 178-79.

[3] Eryl W. Davies, “Inheritance Rights and the Hebrew Levirate Marriage”, VT 31 (1981): 139.

[4] Davies, “Levirate Marriage”, 139; Victor P. Hamilton, “Marriage (OT and ANE),” ABD, 4:561, 567).

[5] According to Numbers 27:5-11, if there was a lack of male heirs, daughter could, under certain circumstances, inherit the father’s property. But this is a mechanism that represents the importance of preserving the family’s property rather than an affirmation of the rights of woman to be heirs. Such a conclusion is confirmed by Num 36:1-12 which forbids daughters, who act as heirs to their father, from marrying outside of their father’s tribe.

[6] Raymond Westbrook, Property and the Family in Biblical Law (JSOT Sup 113; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991), 76.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Two Lost Sons: Where you read from matters (Luke 15)

Tim Bulkeley over at 5 Minute Bible. has posted an interesting pod cast on Luke 15 and the parable of the prodigal son. Bulkeley reflects that our cultural location colors how we read the Bible. He relates how westerners usually read the parable and then points out how Christians on the African continent tend to hear the parable. It is a short but insightful piece. Listen to it here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Book Winner!

Congrats to Charles Savelle! He is the winner of Brenda Colijn's Images of Salvation in the New Testament. Send your address to me at and I will send the book out this week.

For those of you who did not win, keep watching for future giveaways.

The Sisters of Jesus: Mary, Anna, Salome?

Mark Goodacre has posted episode 50 of the NT Pod.

In this segment Goodacre looks at the question of who were Jesus' sisters. Although people are aware of the names of Jesus' brothers, few give thought to mention of Jesus' sisters (Mark 6:3). Are they Mary and Salome or Anna and Salome? Listen to to the NT Pod what Goodacre has to say about this question.

Also, at the NT Blog you can read Goodacre's take on Richard Bauckham's claim that there is a 50% chance that the names of Jesus' sisters were Mary and Salome.