Saturday, January 28, 2012

Rewriting the Bible Lecture Video

On Thursday I gave a public lecture on Rewritten Bible. My colleague, Terence Mournet, was kind enough to video it for me. Many of you were asking if it would be recorded and so here it is. It is about an hour. Enjoy, let me know your thoughts.

"Rewriting the Bible", Dr. John Byron from Ashland Seminary on Vimeo.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Atheists to Build Tower to Unbelief in London

The Guardian is reporting that atheist Alain de Botton wants to build a tower to unbelief.

Plans to build a £1m "temple for atheists" among the international banks and medieval church spires of the City of London have sparked a clash between two of Britain's most prominent non-believers. The philosopher and writer Alain de Botton is proposing to build a 46-metre (151ft) tower to celebrate a "new atheism" as an antidote to what he describes as Professor Richard Dawkins's "aggressive" and "destructive" approach to non-belief.

Hmm, now where have I read something like this before?

Friday Book Giveaway

This week's giveaway is from Osiek, MacDonald and Tulloch.  A Woman's Place: House Churches in Earliest Christianity (Fortress: 2006).

Here's the blurb:

This focused look at women in the household context discusses the importance of issues of space and visibility in shaping the lives of early Christian women. Several aspects of women's everyday existence are investigated, including the lives of wives, widows, women with children, female slaves, women as patrons, household leaders, and teachers. In addition, several key themes emerge: hospitality, dining practices, and the extent of female segregation.

Place your name below if you want to win and I will choose a winner on Sunday. Remember, the winner has five days to claim the prize.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

More on the Discovery of Jewish Documents in Afghanistan

At the beginning of the new year I posted about the rumors floating around the internet about some Jewish documents that had been discovered in Afghanistan. At this point there is still not much information available, and that is probably good. Hopefully it means they are being studied cautiously by experts who can provide some suggestions as to what kind of documents have been discovered and when they were written. This is a much better way to do things than was the case with the lead codices that were all over the news last winter

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency has an article that does provide a bit more information. Here is some of what the article has to say.

What no one disputes is that the documents are authentic and, if they can be made widely available to scholars, can potentially shed light on a period in Jewish history that remains shrouded in mystery.
The documents, which number about 150 -- far fewer than the thousands in the Cairo Geniza -- are generally believed to be about 1,000 years old, though a few are probably older. They include early texts suggesting the community may have been Karaite, a Jewish sect that rejected rabbinic law and flourished in the 10th and 11th centuries. There are also financial documents that may have much to teach about the Jewish merchants who acted as middlemen along the trade routes between East Asia and Europe. The writings of Saadia Gaon include fragments of a biblical commentary and a rebuttal to the claims of a local heretic. Poems also were recovered.
“I think that it’s a very important find,” said Shaul Shaked, an emeritus professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who saw some of the documents in London several months ago. "This is the first time that we have a large quantity of handwritten documents from that area, from Afghanistan, where we knew vaguely there was some kind of Jewish settlement, a Jewish community, but we had very vague ideas about what their life was like.”

As I said above, hopefully these documents will be studied in the correct manner. While it does not appear that they will provide us information for the biblical period, they will help us to better understand Judaism.

The Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul

Today is designated on the church calendar as when we celebrate the conversion of Saint Paul. Next to Jesus, the Apostle Paul left a deep imprint upon what eventually became Christianity.

Want to learn more about Paul and how New Testament scholarship has and does view him? Visit the Paul Page.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tuesday with Thomas á Kempis

I have been reading through the Imitation of Christ the last few weeks. My wife got me a Kindle for my birthday and Thomas á Kempis was one of the free books available. I have read him several time over the years and always find something new. I thought what he had to say in the section below was particularly important to those of us who teach and love the pursuit of knowledge.

Every perfection in this life has some imperfection mixed with it and no learning of ours is without some darkness. Humble knowledge of self is a surer path to God than the ardent pursuit of learning. Not that learning is to be considered evil, or knowledge, which is good in itself and so ordained by God; but a clean conscience and virtuous life ought always to be preferred. Many often err and accomplish little or nothing because they try to become learned rather than to live well.

If men used as much care in uprooting vices and implanting virtues as they do in discussing problems, there would not be so much evil and scandal in the world, or such laxity in religious organizations. On the day of judgment, surely, we shall not be asked what we have read but what we have done; not how well we have spoken but how well we have lived.

Tell me, where now are all the masters and teachers whom you knew so well in life and who were famous for their learning? Others have already taken their places and I know not whether they ever think of their predecessors. During life they seemed to be something; now they are seldom remembered. How quickly the glory of the world passes away! If only their lives had kept pace with their learning, then their study and reading would have been worthwhile.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Are vegetarians heretics?

I like vegetables. As far as I can remember I always have. And there are few that I will absolutely refuse to eat. I will even confess to enjoying the occasional Boca or black bean burger. But I won't eat tofu and I certainly won't eat anything containing tofu masquerading as meat. Tofurkey not only sounds bad, it tastes bad too. So I guess if there is a vegetable I don't like it is soy beans. No matter how you hide it, yuck!

But I also like meat! And just about any kind. It is hard to beat a nice steak, a sloppy burger, or a really good piece of chicken or pork. If I had been on the roof in Joppa that day praying next to Peter, saw a sheet full of animals and the voice of God telling me "get up, kill, eat" the only questions I would have is "do you have any BBQ sauce and a napkin?" So the idea of being a vegetarian is pretty far removed from my lifestyle choices.

Some vegetarians are "evangelists" for the cause and go so far as to turn it into a theology of creation suggesting that we should not eat anything that must be killed in order to consume it. They suggest that this is somehow a violation of the created order and makes the consumer of meat akin to the murderer.

It is interesting, however, that in the history of Christianity vegetarianism is one of the hallmarks of some the more famous heretical groups. Over at The Bible and Interpretation, Sebastian Moll has a short essay looking at the connections between vegetarianism and heresy. He has an interesting take on the issue.

Here is a bit of what he has to say.

Modern vegetarians often refer to theological terminology such as “reverence for life” or “respecting creation” when defending their position. Ironically, in the Early Church the situation is exactly the other way around. Abstaining from meat is considered a sign of heresy. In the Canons of the Council of Ancyra (314), it is stated: “It is decreed that among the clergy, presbyters and deacons who abstain from meat shall taste of it, and afterwards, if they shall so please, may abstain. But if they disdain it, and will not even eat herbs served with meat, but disobey the canon, let them be removed from their order.” While never included into Church Law, this anathema is confirmed by several later councils, such as the Council of Braga (Portugal, 561), at which the anathema is expanded to include clergy and lay people alike.

Many heretical groups in early Christianity indeed practiced vegetarianism, for example the Marcionites and the Manicheans. Traditional scholarship attributes this behavior to just another form of asceticism. But if the councils wanted to condemn radical asceticism, why is there no anathema for people who abstain from alcohol, for example? What is the reason for the special concern with the question of eating meat? Are vegetarians really a threat to Christian orthodoxy?

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Book Giveaway Winner

This week's winner is Dave Boling. Dave is the winner of  Peter Oake's Reading Romans in Pompeii: Paul's Letter at Ground Level (Fortress, 2009).

Dave, please send your details to and I will send you the book. Remember, you have 5 days to claim your prize after which time the book goes back on the shelf for another day.