Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday Book Giveaway

It has been a while since I had a giveaway, so why not today?

I am giving away a copy of Louis Feldman's Jewish Life and Thought Among Greeks and Romans: Primary Readings (Fortress, 1996). Here is the blurb:

This comprehensive treasury of sources on Judaism in the ancient period will be valued and used by students, scholars, and general readers who are interested in Jewish history, classical studies, or the origins of Christianity.
Two of the world's leading authorities on the classical period bring together an amazing variety of ancient sources in an accessible and interesting way. Included are helpful introductions, a glossary, maps, illustrations, and other aids for reading and research.
This book includes the most comprehensive coverage available of sources in the area of anti-Semitism and (what is usually more neglected) philo-Semitism. It coordinates literacy, epigraphical, papyrological, and numismatic evidence.

You know the drill. Put your name below and I will randomly select a winner on Sunday. Good luck!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Thoughts on the Selling of Seminary Textbooks

The student center at Ashland has a table in one corner for free items. It is a place where students can come to collect food that is donated weekly by local businesses. I suppose such tables are a regular fixture at most seminaries and I remember needing to take advantage of the free groceries on occasion when I was in seminary.

In addition to food and clothing it is not unusual to find a couple of books that are either free for the taking or require a small donation. This morning I carried a pile of biblical studies journals that I no longer need nor want on my shelf. They are all online now and easier to search that way. So I thought I would donate them to those who might get more use from them.

As I was making my deposit I noticed two boxes of books for sale. The sign on the box read: “Large books $10, small books $5.” On the front of each box was an envelope where monies were to be placed. I began looking through the boxes and quickly realized that these were not merely someone’s cast offs, part of the process of making room. No, these were seminary text books; the volumes that professors require on the syllabus; the books we think you need to read in order to get a grasp of the topics we are teaching. Even more troubling was that it was clear that many of them had not been cracked, let alone read. I found books on Jesus and Paul, church history and the polity of a particular denomination and a Hebrew primer still in the plastic wrap.

I searched for a name in the books, but could find none and wondered what the story was behind the books. Why would a student be getting rid of so many books and at cut rate prices? Were they having financial problems? Did they suddenly have to leave seminary? Had they just given up?

It always disturbs me to see a list of books for sale by students. From time to time I will see an advert for books with the name of a graduating senior as the contact person. It makes me wonder why they would sell all of their books. Did they really hate the books that much? Did they disagree with the author or the approach? Did they consider their education over and therefore also the need to read and learn? Would they never need any of these books once they got into the ministry?

I realize that not every book assigned in a course will have long term value. Sometimes a professor will require a book and then realize it didn’t work for the course. And I have sold some of my books over the years as I updated or moved into different areas of study. But I still keep many of them around for reference, to look up the answers that I need and to find the information that I require. I wonder, then, to where will these students go if/when they need information in their ministry, when they are trying to remember what it is we taught him or her? Do they assume they can get everything they need on the internet? Or do they think they only need their Bible? On both scores I have my doubts.

I remember hearing a saying about pastors many years ago. It went something like this: “You can tell when someone graduated from seminary by looking at when the most recent book on their shelf was published.” In other words, too many pastors stop reading when they finish seminary. Perhaps some sold all of their books.  I wonder where they will go when they need to look up a question. Do they look up anything? Do they have any questions?

I remember another story I once heard. It was about a young student who wanted to study the Torah, but had little money for books. One day the young man’s Rabbi asked him why his breath smelled so bad. The young man responded by telling the Rabbi that he spent all of his money on books for studying so that he had been forced to eat road apples for food.

I am not asking students and pastors to eat road apples. But I would ask them to think before they sell all of their books. They just might need them again someday.

My friend and colleague, Allan Bevere, has chimed in on the topic. Here is part of what he has to say.

If I were a parishioner interviewing a pastor as a potential candidate to shepherd my congregation, one of the questions I would ask is "What books have you read in the last year?" I dare say the answer more often than not would be quite disappointing.

Yes, there are certainly pastors who continue the life of study throughout their years in the parish. But I fear that there are all too many whose pursuit of the truth stopped once they received that seminary diploma at graduation. Yes, they may read a few things here or there, but they are more interested in spending the evenings watching reality TV than continuing to grapple with the great theological truths of our faith. Some may think that indictment is too harsh, but my experience tells me that it is on target.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Feast of Saint Mark

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Mark, known in the New Testament as John Mark. According to Acts he accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey until he decided to leave. This angered Paul and was one of the reasons that Paul and Barnabas eventually split.

Although his name appears no where in the gospel, his name has been attached to the third gospel as its author. According to Papias, Mark accompanied Peter in Rome and wrote down Peter's account of Jesus' life into the gospel we now call Mark.

Later tradition records that he was the first bishop of Alexandria where he was eventually martyred.

For more information on Mark you can go here and here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Mark of the Beast and Roulette

The number 666 is found in Revelation 13:18 and is identified by the author as the number of the beast. Over the last 2000 years that number has become infamous. It is associated with the devil and evil. I have heard of people who would not accept a house number or license plate with the number.

So what does this have to do with roulette? Well if you add up the numbers of a Monte Carlo roulette wheel they equal 666. As a result, the rumor has been that the inventor, Francois Blanc,cut a deal with the devil to get the design for the wheel.

As most students of the New Testament soon learn, however, the mystery behind the number is Nero. If one add's up the  letters of Nero's name in Hebrew the number equals 666.

The video below is of Pete Watts of Bibledex, a New Testament PhD student at the University of Nottingham, and James Grime a mathematician at Cambridge University. In the video Pete explains how Greek and Hebrew used letters, not numbers, to add numbers and demonstrates how Nero was the beast. James shows some interesting facts about the number 666.

Interesting fact: The video is 11 minutes 6 seconds long. 11 x 60 = 660 + 6 = 666.

HT: The Guardian Blog.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Genesis for Normal People

A few weeks back I posted a review of Pete Enns' new book The Evolution of Adam (Baker Academic, 2012). In the book Enns helps readers to think about Genesis and the creation story in a world informed by evolution. In the first half of the book Enns places Genesis in its wider Ancient Near East context and makes some suggestions of how moderns should read it.

Today I have two links that continue on this theme.

First is a 12 minute video in which a number of scholars provide perspectives on reading Genesis. The video is produced by the Biologos Foundation.

Second is a new EBook by Peter Enns and Jared Byas titled Genesis for Normal People: A Guide to the Most Controversial, Misunderstood, and Abused Book of the Bible. The book is on special today for just $1.99, it's normally $4.99. It looks like an interesting read.