Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Book Giveaway!

I thought that since I posted such a long piece on slavery language in the Bible on Wednesday, I should offer a book on the topic for this week's giveaway. No, it is not one of my books, although I may do a giveaway for one of them in the future.

This week's giveaway is Jennifer Glancy's Slavery in Early Christianity (Fortress, 2006). Here's the blurb.
This is the first paperback edition of the enlightening Oxford University hardcover published in 2002. Glancy here situates early Christian slavery in its broader cultural setting, arguing that modern scholars have consistently underestimated the pervasive impact of slavery on the institutional structures, ideologies, and practices of the early churches - and upon the bodies of the enslaved. Her careful attention to the bodily experience of subjection and violation that constituted slavery makes this an indispensable book for anyone interested in slavery in early Christianity. Includes special chapters on Jesus and Paul.

I highly recommend this book. Although I may not always agree with Glancy's biblical interpretations, I do think she has provided a fine presentation of what slavery was like in the first centuries of Christian history.

So put your name below and I will choose a winner on Sunday. Remember, all winners have five days to claim their prize after which time the book goes back on the shelf for another day.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Is that God speaking or last night's pizza?

Many of us have had a "gut instinct" about something. Somehow we "knew" what decision we needed to make. Or perhaps we "just knew" that we were going to get that job. Other times we can "just tell" something is wrong.

I remember a time as a young teenager when, walking home with a friend, I saw an ambulance turn off my road and head down the highway. The ambulance did not have any sirens going and there were no lights on. It looked like an ambulance on its way back from a call or even from the garage after a regular scheduled maintanance. It was clearly not in a hurry and there was no sign of an emergency.

But somehow I knew something was wrong at home. I told my friend I needed to go because that ambulance had come from my house. He laughed at me and pointed out that I could not even see my house, how could I possibly "know." But I did and when we walked in the door my mother was on the phone with my grandmother. She was telling her how my father had been electrocuted while working in a tree. He was ok and had asked the ambulance to stop at the house to tell my mother and let her know he was fine. To this day I can't explain how I "knew,"I just did.

If you have "instinct" or "gut feelings" about stuff, then you are also more likely to believe in God and go to church. At least that is what a recent study has discovered. Live Science has posted an article explaining the results. Here is some of what they say.

For many people, believing in God comes down to a gut feeling that a benevolent deity is out there. A study now finds that gut feelings may be very important in determining who goes to church every Sunday and who avoids the pews.

People who are generally more intuitive in the way they think and make decisions are more likely to believe in God than those who ruminate over their choices, the researchers found. The findings suggest that basic differences in thinking style can influence religious belief.

"Some say we believe in God because our intuitions about how and why things happen lead us to see a divine purpose behind ordinary events that don't have obvious human causes," study researcher Amitai Shenhav of Harvard University said in a statement. "This led us to ask whether the strength of an individual's beliefs is influenced by how much they trust their natural intuitions versus stopping to reflect on those first instincts."

I am not sure what to make of this since while I have had "gut feelings" I also tend to ruminate over some decisions, sometimes to the point that I make myself sick. But I am also not sure about the methods used for the test. Apparently researchers asked two questions. One was a math question, the other to write a paragraph about either their experience with intuition or reasoning. Those who answered the math question via their "first instincts" or wrote about intuition were more likely to believe in God.

I guess I must be a "gut level" person because according to the article that is how I would answer the math question. Here is the question.

The participants took a three-question math test with questions such as, "A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?" The intuitive answer to that question is 10 cents, since most people's first impulse is to knock $1 off the total. But people who use "reflective" reasoning to question their first impulse are more likely to get the correct answer: 5 cents.

I admit, I went with 10 cents. But I will also admit that I have yet to figure out how 5 cents is the right answer. I guess that is why my wife has the business degree with accounting.

Can anyone explain to me how the answer is 5 cents?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Slavery Language in the Bible: How should it be translated?

*This is a longish post for me, so I apologize in advance. Hopefully it will be of interest to some.

I discovered through facebook that the BBC recently aired a program titled: When God spoke English: The making of the King James Bible. The program is part of the international celebration of the KJV’s 400th anniversary. Unfortunately, the program is not yet available in North America.

Part of the program features a 5 minute clip of the ESV committee working at Tyndale House. The topic of the committee’s discussion is how to translate the word slave in the Bible. Pete Williams, warden of Tyndale House, was kind enough to direct me to a youtube clip of the committee’s discussion. It provides a brief look at how translation committees work on difficult issues. I have placed the clip below and then would like to make a few remarks in response to some of the comments made.

There are few things that I would like to say in response to the way slavery language appears and is translated in the Bible.

First I want to acknowledge that this is a difficult if not near impossible task for any translator/interpreter. Not only do we have to contend with the understanding and practice of slavery in antiquity, we also must grapple with the world’s most recent experience of institutional slavery in America and the way that the Bible was used by some to support the enslaving of human beings. It is near impossible for the one not to influence the other as was noted in the clip.

Second, it is clear that the youtube clip is an edited compilation of what was clearly a longer meeting and certainly involved much more conversation than is being presented. The way the discussion moves between Hebrew Bible and New Testament makes this clear. I have every confidence that the scholars in this clip took longer than five minutes to debate how they would translate “slave” in the Bible.

With the above two caveats in mind, here are some of my thoughts on what is being said here.

  1. While it is difficult to tell from the context, it seems some are advocating that the word “servant” be used for the Hebrew word ebed rather than "slave" since otherwise one would be "slaving for God." But I wonder why this is a problem. In Exodus, the story is of Israel being released from slavery to Pharaoh. But it is not a story of freedom as much as it is a story of being transfered from slavery to Pharaoh to slavery to God. In Exodus 4:23; 7:16; 8:20; 9:1, 13; and 10:3 God, through Moses, commands Pharaoh “let my people go that they might serve me.” The term for “serve” here is the Hebrew ebed which in the context of the Exodus story is probably better understood and translated as slave like service. It seems that the Israelites were released from Egyptian slavery to be God’s slaves. Indeed, the major reason that Israelites cannot own fellow Israelites as permanent slaves is because they are God’s slaves (Lev 25:39-46). There are many more examples of this we could point to in the Hebrew Bible (e.g. 2 Chr 12:8), but the theme is also found in the New Testament. In Romans 6 the overall contrast that is set up is that believers were at one time slaves of sin but are now slaves of God (6:22). So I am not sure that there is a problem with the phrase “slave of God” or slaving for God since it seems to be what the Bible has in mind. The Bible holds up slavery to God as positive. We may feel uncomfortable with that, but to mitigate it to "service" or being a "servant" seems to weaken the contrasts being made. I would still vote for using "slave" or "slavery."

  2. I am a bit confused by the statement that the difference between a servant and a slave is whether they are owned by the master or whether they are paid by him. I am not sure that we can say that calling someone an ebed means that the individual was owned by a master rather than paid as an employee. I think of examples like 2 Samuel 2:12-13 where Abner and Joab, commanders of the armies of Ishbosheth and David, are both referred to as the ebed of their master. The context certainly implies that these men are not owned by their masters, but the term used to describe them is the same one used elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible to describe chattel slaves. Thus, while I agree with the decision by translators to label Abner and Joab as “servants,” the language is not as clear as we would like it. It is possible that aspects of institutional slavery do play into the understanding of Abner and Joab’s position, but they are also not people bought and sold. I am also not sure that once can make the argument that the Old Testament was trying to improve the life of slaves (cf. Ex 21:7-11; 20-21). The presentation of slavery in the Old Testament is pretty bleak and if we are not careful we can read in positive aspects where there weren’t any. The fact is, being a slave was rarely, if ever, a good thing.

  3. My biggest hesitation is reserved for the comments about slavery in the first century or New Testament era. It is sometimes said that the type of slavery practiced in Rome was different than that of North America in the 16th – 19th centuries. In one sense this is correct since Roman slavery was not based on race and there were more opportunities available for slaves to become free. But caution should be exercised. At times Roman slavery can be presented as a harmless institution that provided security and economic benefits to the enslaved. But it is important to remember that slavery, in whatever form or time period, is not a positive experience for the enslaved. Moreover, the notion that in the first century it was “temporary,” “often voluntary,” and “provided status and legal protection” is problematic. In response I draw on the Epilogue from my Recent Research on Paul and slavery.

    A) Most NT scholars are familiar with the thesis that individuals would sell themselves into slavery as a way to relieve themselves of debt, improve their quality of life or even as a means of social improvement. This has also been sometimes suggested as the background for Paul’s discussion of slavery to sin and God in Rom. 6:16–22 and his understanding of slavery to Christ. However, how frequently this form of enslavement was practiced is not clear. References to self-sale in the Roman jurists indicate that individuals who sold themselves into slavery had not only given up their inalienable right to freedom, but also brought shame upon themselves and their family (Digest; 40.12.1). Apart from two references in the Jurists, references to self-sale are few and obscure. Keith Bradley has noted that: “It is generally agreed that self-sale as a mode of enslavement was of negligible importance in the central period of Roman history.” (Roman Slavery, Roman Law, 483)
    B) The only clear allusion to the practice in Christian literature is found in 1 Clement 55.2. The reference is enigmatic, however, and seems to be referring more to those who were willing to suffer for others rather than suggesting that the author was familiar with the practice of self-sale. Another allusion is found in Petronius’s Satyricon where the freedman Trimalchio claims to have sold himself into slavery in order to improve his social standing. However, satire was intended to distort common social values for the purpose of comedy while reinforcing those values at the same time. The limited evidence for the practice of self-sale should serve as a caution to NT scholars. The suggestion that it was “voluntary” or even temporary has little support and creates a positive view of slavery in antiquity that probably should not be perpetuated.
    C) The belief that slaves were upwardly mobile individuals has been a common assumption among both classical and NT scholarship. However, there have been some studies in the last thirty years that have questioned not only the social mobility of slaves and freed persons, but also the social mobility of the free poor. When NT scholars focus on the social mobility that did occur among the very few who were members of familia Caesaris, they are analyzing an abnormal pattern, not one that would have been recognized by the slave population as an opportunity for social mobility. The experience of the vast majority of slaves cannot be mitigated by focusing on the unusual influence or atypical mobility of a select few. Moreover, social mobility among slaves suggests the presence of class consciousness among slaves. Bradley points out, however, that the idea of slaves having a ‘class consciousness’ of their own never developed in antiquity and that rather than admire the master’s ‘slave representative,’ all slaves, regardless of their position, would have been competing for the support and favor of the master. While some slaves were of higher rank and influence, this did not exempt them from the same type of abuse and maltreatment other slaves received. (Slavery and Society, 72-73; 152).

  4. Finally, I am a bit perplexed about the decision to render the four occurrences of doulos in 1 Corinthians 7 as “bond servant.” I am not sure what they mean by that term, but the inclusion of “servant” could suggest something less than a slave. I would argue however, that of the many places in the New Testament where doulos occurs 1 Corinthians 7 is a good place to translate it as slave. My reason is based on the fact that this is the only place in the Bible where the technical term “freedman” (a former slave) appears. Paul is purposely contrasting a slave with a former slave and he means someone owned, not paid. Interestingly, this is also the only time where, in the undisputed epistles, Paul mixes his usage of slavery language. He is clearly addressing real slaves sitting in the congregation at Corinth and he is attempting to mitigate their status by interpreting it metaphorically and referring to them as a “slave of the Lord” and “freedman of the Lord.” This suggests to me, then, that in those places where Paul calls himself a “slave of Christ” he means a slave that is “owned” like a chattel slave, not a servant.

Again, I want to emphasize that I know that the clip has been edited, and Pete Williams informs me that some of the material is out of order. I am not surprised. However, anyone watching this clip might get the wrong impression about slavery and the Bible. I think it is important to note that the topic and the challenge of translating the terminology are more complicated than is sometimes appreciated. Our experiences with slavery, particularly in America, may tempt us to sanitize the Bible of an institution that makes us uncomfortable. But if we understand the Bible in its historical setting, we see that slavery was a very real part of the world. The challenge for translators and interpreters is not to mitigate that reality while at the same time learning from it. It is ok to be uncomfortable with the Bible. It is what we do with it that is important.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Blog Tour and Book Giveaway!

A few weeks back I mentioned that Baker Academic had sent me a copy of Bruce Fisk's A Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus. I will be participating with other bibliobloggers in a "blog tour" which is the 21st century's version of a book tour. I and eight other New Testament scholars/bloggers will be posting reviews of Fisk's book October 3-7.

In the mean time, Baker is holding a contest in which the grand prize is six books on the historical Jesus, a $180 value. Second Prize will be a copy of Fisk's book.

You can enter the contest here or click on the banner to the left here on the Biblical World.

I hope you will join all of us on the blog tour the first week in October and I wish you luck in the contest.

Monday, September 19, 2011

How the Denominations See Each Other

Brain Leport and Daniel Kirk each posted this handy chart for how denominations view one another. Hope you have a good chuckle.

Digging for Ancient Water at Tel-Gezer

As my readers know, I participated in the dig at Tel-Gezer in 2009 and again this summer. Both times I took a group of students who came to experience archaeology and the land of the Bible.

One of the spin off projects from the dig has been the efforts by Dan Warner and his team to clear out and study the water system. The entrance to the water tunnel is located inside the original Canaanite city and exits someplace outside the side of the Tel. A good portion of that tunnel has been filled in over time by debris that must be removed to study it.

The project is a challenge for at least two reasons.

First, there is 100's if not 1000's of years of pigeon and bat dung in the cave. It certainly does not make for a pleasant breathing environment.

Second, not all of the debris in the tunnel ended up there via "natural erosion." A significant amount of dirt and large boulders were placed there by previous excavators. It must have seemed a convenient place to get rid of the dirt from excavations in other parts of the Tel. Of course, no one is "confessing" who put the materials there, although the Dever excavations in the 1960's and 70's seem to be the best suspect. But my understanding is that when the question was asked at recent party at the Albright, no one was "confessing" but there was plenty of finger pointing in other directions.

But the good news is that Warner and his team from New Orleans Baptist Seminary have made tremendous headway over the last few seasons and are getting very close to the source of the ancient spring. I understand that they hit mud this summer, which might suggest they will find the spring next season.

There is a nice writeup about the project in Baptist Press. I also managed to find a youtube clip in which Dan Warner describes the project and shows some of the challenges related to this type of archaeology. If you think all archaeologists use paintbrushes and dental tools you need to see the way these folks are using a crane. I wish we had used that thing on other parts of the Tel.