Saturday, October 23, 2010

How many versions of the Bible do we need? Or Why the Bible makes good economics.

I ran across this article in a Kansas City newspaper. I found it interesting since it talks about the economics of Bible publishing. Perhaps they read my blog asking whether we have too many translations and were inspired to write this article. :)

If you stacked all the Bibles sitting in American homes, the tower would rise 29 million feet, almost 1,000 times the height of Mount Everest.

More than 90 percent of American households own a Bible, and the average family owns three, according to pollsters at the Barna Group. The American Bible Society hands out 5 million copies each year; 1.5 billion Gideon Bibles wait in hotel rooms worldwide.

Scripture outsells the latest diet fads, murder mysteries and celebrity bios year after year. Evangelical publishers alone sold an estimated 20 million Bibles in recession-battered 2009, raking in about $500 million in sales, according to Michael Covington, information and education director of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.

“Bibles are in many ways a cash cow,” said Phyllis Tickle, a former longtime religion editor at Publishers Weekly. “The Bible is the mainstay of many a publishing program.”

However, some Christian scholars wonder whether that popularity can sometimes be a bad thing, as a major new translation and waves of books marking the 400th anniversary of the venerable King James Bible inundate the market this fall.

Read the rest of the article here.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Word of the Day

Found this on the Fortress Press Forum Page.

"Apocalyptic Literature ": uh-PAH-kuh-lihp-tihk-LIH-duhr-uh-chuhr


If you don’t know how to read apocalyptic literature, it’s the end of the world; if you do know how, it isn’t.


"Apocalyptic literature is a kind of story that God’s people found particularly helpful during times of oppression. These stories have recurring features. Ancient heroes of the faith: perhaps because the people were being persecuted, they felt safer telling stories about people who had lived long ago. Dreams: these ancient heroes have visions, often featuring strange imagery. Angels: an angel appears who interprets the meaning of the visions. Predictions: the meaning of these visions is often a prediction by the long-gone hero of the faith concerning the situation in which God’s people were suffering. Daniel was written in a time when God’s people were oppressed by the Seleucid empire (c. 167 BCE). Revelation was written when the church was oppressed by the Roman empire (c. 90 CE). If you know how to read this literature, you’ll know these books are about the Seleucid and Roman empires, respectfully. If you don’t know how to read this literature, you might get tempted to pull a “Chicken Little” and run around yelling, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” Which would be entertaining. Misguided, yes. But certainly entertaining."

The Kingdom of David: The Saga of the Israelites

I had not seen this PBS series until it was pointed out to me by one of my students, David Ladow. The series is four hours long and looks at the history of Judaism from the time of the Babylonian exile through the rabbinic period. These videos would be a good resource for a class that explores the history of Judaism.

I have embedded the videos below.

By the Rivers of Babylon

The Book and the Sword

The End of Days

The Gifts of the Jews

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Evangelists Caught Copying!

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, see me after class. Your book reports are surprisingly similar.

James McGrath shared this humorous cartoon which depicts the rather uncomfortable position in which the four Gospel authors would be had their papers been flagged by a teacher for copying from one another.

Mark Goodacre points out, however, that there are couple of problems with the cartoon.

1) The presence of Jesus in the classroom who would not have been around when the Gospels were written.

2) Few would find John's Gospel to be similar to the other three.

Nonetheless it is a funny depiction of the Synoptic Problem. You can find more such cartoons at the Young Jesus Chronicles.

Who says biblical scholars don't know how to have fun?

I was recently alerted to the below video by a newsletter sent by Tyndale House. Lori and I met Diane Hakala in Cambridge during my 2008 sabbatical. Diane is a PhD Candidate studying the history of the use of the ten commandments with Professor William Horbury. We had many an enjoy able dinner and bottle of wine with Diane.

But before Diane went to Cambridge she was a world champion stunt pilot and the USA National Aerobatics Champion in 1997. If you haven't booked a flight for SBL yet, Diane can get you to Atlanta faster and with more entertainment.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dead Sea Scrolls on Google

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that the Israel Antiquities Authority has teamed up with Google to put the Dead Sea Scrolls online. This is a brilliant move since access is restricted to only a few people. This not due to a conspiracy but because the more than 2000 year old fragments are so fragile. But within a few months you will no longer need to fly to Israel to see the scrolls. You will be able to access them online. Moreover, the reports say that an English translation will be provided along with the original document. This will be a great resource for teaching and research. Kudos to both Google and the IAA. Check out the video in the Jerusalem Post article.

God and the Flood: Creation Untamed II

In chapter two of his book Creation Untamed, Fretheim looks at the first natural disaster recorded in the Bible, the flood. Having established that creation is "good" not prefect, Fretheim begins to unpack the question: does "good" include natural disasters.

Since the flood is often understood as the judgement of God, Fretheim explores the notion of God punishing sin. What he discovers is interesting. Rather than viewing punishment as something that God "sends" in response to sin, it is quite often understood as the effects of sin. The punishment is the result of the sin not something that God causes. As Fretheim notes, the "consequences grow out of the deed itself rather than being a penalty imposed from without." (p.49). The point is this. God has established order and systems within creation. When that order is abrogated there are consequences which "punish" the offender. The issue is a complex one and Fretheim explains more than I want to post here. But his point is important. We often think of punishment as God acting against humanity when quite often it is the results of our actions that punish us. In the context of the flood this becomes an important point.

In Genesis 6:11-13 the problem is that "all flesh" had succumbed to violence. In 6:7 God regrets that creation and vows to wipe it out. This certainly sounds like punishment. But the next verse also mitigates that vow when we read that Noah has found favor in God's sight. Fretheim suggests that this represents a change in the divne strategy. God's punishment is mixed with God's emotions. God has sorrow and regret.God's mind is changed and rather than destroy all of humanity, Noah, his family and representatives of the animal kingdom are saved (p. 59) God decides to continue on with the less than perfect creation.

In the case of the flood, Fretheim argues that God does not introduce the judgement. Rather, the destructive effects from the violence were already springing forth. He views the flood not as God's action but the natural consequences of human misdeeds. God does warn Noah that the destruction is coming. But God does not trigger the flood. The flood waters and the bursting forth of springs upon the earth are all the subject of the verbs. "The seeds of destruction are contained in the very nature of the situation, and God mediates those consequences." (p.55)

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).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

More on Greek and Hebrew: Pastors, why don't you use them?

Well yesterday's post generated some passionate comments about the need for seminary students to learn Greek and Hebrew. Jim West and Scott Bailey each chimed in on why students should learn original languages. Jonathon Robinson added his own thoughts and Matthew Montonini wonders what others are doing to keep up .

For the record, I am not suggesting we change the requirement. But I am thinking out loud about the topic. I do wonder why so many who learn the languages don't stick with them and use them. I am not sure we can boil it down to something as simple as calling them "lazy" as Jim West suggests.

With that in mind, I thought I would continue this trajectory by giving an opportunity for some to explain why they don't use Greek and Hebrew in preparation for teaching and preaching.

If you learned Greek and/or Hebrew either in undergrad or seminary and do not use it why?

  • Are you too busy?

  • Did you forgot everything you were taught?

  • Is language a topic in which you are not skilled?

  • Perhaps no one ever convinced you of the need?

  • It could be you had a really lousy teacher who never took the time to help you learn the languages.

My goal here is not to call anyone out, but to hear from those who have been taught the languages and why they never followed through. I am really curious to hear from those who are engaged in some type of ministry that is not primarily in the academy.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Should seminary students learn Greek and Hebrew?

It is the beginning of term at Ashland and although I am not teaching Greek this year I am still hearing the question, why do I need to learn Greek or Hebrew?

Over the years I have swung between the extremes. On the one hand, I have mounted a vigorous defense of biblical languages in a seminary curriculum. On the other, I have privately wished that the only students in my Greek class were the ones that chose to be there.

The question is an important one. The modern pastor is very busy and is more of a general practitioner than a specialist. Working with languages takes time. Although we teach students Greek and Hebrew few have the time week in and week out to put in the kind of effort required to translate the chosen passage for the Sunday sermon. Most pastors do not have a large church staff if any at all. This means that they are in constant demand and are often propelled from crisis to crisis. While weddings are usually planned months in advance funerals are not. It is common for a pastor's normal week to be "interrupted " by a death in the congregation, a family that is falling apart, or some other emergency. And of course this does not include the pastor's family.

Of course there are many good translations to which the pastor will turn. In this case they may not translate their selected passage, but they have the ability to work with some quality commentaries that deal with the original languages. But this leads to the question of how much students need to study the languages to function.

One problem that I have often observed is that studetns are often better in one language than the other. Someimtes this depends on which language they took first. A student who takes Hebrew first may experience language fatigue when it comes time to take Greek next year. It is not uncommon for a student to leave seminary with more competence in one of the two languages. Rarley do they return to studying languages after seminary to improve the one in which they are deficient.

And what about the problem of the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Old Testament? I have to admit that at times I see a disconnect between our teaching of Hebrew to Christian students who will use the New Testament. Better than 90% of the Old Testament quotations in the New Testaement come from the Greek version rather than the Hebrew. And the differences between them can be significant. If you use the Hebrew Bible, for instance, there is no virgin birth for Matthew to refer to in Isaiah. If we are reading the Bible as Christians, than why don't we read it in the language that Paul and others used which was, for the most part, Greek (LXX) rather than Hebrew.

I also wonder about what we as professors require versus what we actually practice. I am aware of many a New Testament scholar who would defend the need for students to learn Hebrew, but cannot read it themselves. I am bothered when we insist that our students be able to do something that we cannot. For the record, I have kept up on my Hebrew, but only after I was personally convicted by the above type of situation. I realized my Hebrew was slipping and concluded that if I wanted my students to read Hebrew I had better be able to read it too.

Added to all of this is the fact that many seminaries are dropping the language requirements. It is possible to get an MDiv without any Greek or Hebrew. And these courses are not being replaced with more Bible. This strategy is being used to shorten the total hours required to earn the degree. Students take 4-6 less classes and spend less money.

What are your thoughts? Are original languages important to ministry formation? Should seminaries continue to compel students to take Greek and Hebrew?