Saturday, January 22, 2011

Around the Blogosphere this week

Here are a few things I ran across, but did not post on this week.

The Bart Ehrman Project is a new website dedicated to answering many of the claims made by Bart Ehrman. There are a number of videos in which NT scholars respond to some of the claims made by Ehrman. While I disagree with Ehrman on many issues, I am not sure he warrants a web site to save others from him.

A new Fragment of Ben Sira has been discovered. HT: Jim West

Hershel Shanks is offering a free book on the James Brother of Jesus Ossuary that will be released as soon as the verdict is declared in the forgery trial.

Tel-Aviv has named a new neighborhood after a New Testament woman, Tabitha. Acts 9:36-42 relates how Peter raised this woman from the dead when we was in Jaffa, now part of modern Tel-Aviv.

J. Lee Grady has a short essay about Jesus' tattoo over at Charisma.

Matthew Montonini has an interview with Frank Thielman about his commentary on Ephesians.

Mark Goodacre has posted links to the Radio 4 program on BBC looking at the 400th anniversary of the King James Version.

Also, I am giving away two books on Monday. Go here to enter to win.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday Book Giveaway (x2)

Since I posted a bit last week on the historical Jesus I thought this would be a good time to giveaway another book. I have a very slightly used (a name was written in the cover) copy of Gerd Theissen's The Shadow of the Galilean.

This is a fictional account of a first century Jew named Andreas who is forced to work as a spy for Pilate. Andreas is seeking to bring information about Jesus back to Pilate. Along the way he meets the Essenes, Freedom fighters, and some people familiar to you from the Gospels, Josephus and other historical works.

The narrative is packed with history as Theissen unpacks for his readers what he thinks we can know about Jesus and the world in which he lived.

I have required my students to read this book as part of my Gospels class and the response has, for the most part, been positive.

So, leave your name below and I will draw a winner on Monday.

Yes, I will ship it Down Under and to other less strange parts of the world. And no, Jonathan, there are no lewd cartoons inside.

Also, the winner of last week's giveaway has not claimed the prize. Therefore, whoever enters this giveaway will also be entered to win Mark Goodacre's The Synoptic Problem, A way through the Maze.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Book Notice:The Construction of Others in the Acts of the Apostles

I am happy to announce that one of my colleagues here at Ashland Seminary, Dr. Mitzi Smith, has released a new book titles The construction of Others in the Acts of the Apostles: Charismatics, the Jews and Women.

Here is the book description:
Too often the negative characterization of "others" in the biblical text is applied to groups and persons beyond the text whom we wish to define as the Other. Otherness is a synthetic and political social construct that allows us to create and maintain boundaries between "them" and "us." The other that is too similar to us is most problematic. This book demonstrates how proximate characters are constructed as the Other in the Acts of the Apostles. Charismatics, Jews, and women are proximate others who are constructed as the external and internal Other.

And here is what one reviewer has already had to say:

In her book, "The Construction of the Other in the Acts of the Apostles" Mitzi J. Smith is thoroughly convinced that othering in politics and religion are mutually safeguarded in such a way that "Othering in Politics is often theologically framed, and othering among Christians is inherently political." (p.2) Othering is a political project in which identities of those who are not similar to us are created in opposition to ours. Smith is concerned about how the written texts, here the Acts of the Apostles, fall prey to such literary traps of othering. As we engage with the constructed world of the literature, it would be ideal to watch guard against the kind of real world being constructed by the authors. She critically examines Luke's othering tendencies especially in the events related to the Apostles in juxtaposition with Charismatics, the Jews, and Women.

Smith warns of othering tendencies in sacred texts that could eventually lead to contemporary social practices of othering due to difference or ignorance. It just coincides with the first anniversary of Haitian devastation which shows how othering continues in blindly demonizing and othering fellow human beings even amidst their pain and ruins. This book raises very challenging questions to the existing modes of biblical interpretation which intentionally ignore the subjective tendencies that creep into the objective claims. This book will certainly inspire readers to analyse the active agency of the "external others" (Charismatics, the Jews) and "internal others" (women) in the Acts of the Apostles and thus to accept them as agents of spreading gospel and the approved intermediaries in relation to the apostles.

Congratulations to Mitzi. I look forward to reading it soon! Maybe I can convince her to give me a copy for a book giveaway. ;)

Tomb of Emperor Caligula Discovered (Or was it?)

The Guardian is reporting the discovery of the tomb of Gaius Caligula. Apparently, the tomb was discovered not by archaeologist but by a thief who was arrested while trying to smuggle a statue from the tomb.

The former Emperor of Rome is remembered for being almost as crazy as Nero. He is remembered by scholars of the Second Temple period for his attempt to place an image of himself in the Jerusalem temple. Mercifully, he died before he could force its installation. The Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, was one who argued against some of Caligula's religious overreach in his Embassy to Gaius.

Here is what the article has to say.

The lost tomb of Caligula has been found, according to Italian police, after the arrest of a man trying to smuggle abroad a statue of the notorious Roman emperor recovered from the site.

After reportedly sleeping with his sisters, killing for pleasure and seeking to appoint his horse a consul during his rule from AD37 to 41, Caligula was described by contemporaries as insane.

With many of Caligula's monuments destroyed after he was killed by his Praetorian guard at 28, archaeologists are eager to excavate for his remains.

Officers from the archaeological squad of Italy's tax police had a break last week after arresting a man near Lake Nemi, south of Rome, as he loaded part of a 2.5 metre statue into a lorry. The emperor had a villa there, as well as a floating temple and a floating palace; their hulks were recovered in Mussolini's time but destroyed in the war.

The police said the statue was shod with a pair of the "caligae" military boots favoured by the emperor – real name Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus; as a boy, Gaius accompanied his father on campaigns in Germany; the soldiers were amused he wore a miniature uniform, and gave him his nickname Caligula, or "little boot".

The statue is estimated to be worth €1m. Its rare Greek marble, throne and god's robes convinced the police it came from the emperor's tomb. Under questioning, the tomb raider led them to the site, where excavations will start today.

Here is an update thanks to Jeremy O, who left a comment below. Mary Beard at the Times is casting doubt on the claim that this is Caligula's tomb. Beard is professor of Classics at Cambridge. Here is what she has to say.

The news this morning is full of the "discovery" of the emperor Caligula's tomb at Nemi, by the lake about 30 kilometers out of Rome. The details are pretty murky. The police apparently arrested a guy who was loading a statue of the monster young emperor into the back of a lorry.

I haven’t seen a picture of this yet. But how do we know it was Caligula? Because, they say, it was wearing the 'caligae" or sandals that gave the emperor his nickname (his 'real' name was Gaius). Errr? Aren't there loads of Roman statues that wear these?

And why do we think that it marked his tomb?

Simple. Because it makes a good story that gets a load of press coverage for the discovery made by these no doubt brave policemen (the illicit antiquities business is probably second only to drug running in its nastiness).

All the evidence we have from the ancient world suggests that this cannot be so.

Caligula was assassinated in his palace on the Palatine Hill in Rome in 41 AD. According to Suetonius' Life (chap 59), his body was taken to the horti Lamiani, the site of an imperial pleasure gardens on the Esquiline Hill. There he was quickly cremated and buried a light covering of turf. Later on his sisters returned, to cremate and bury it properly.

There is no suggestion whatsoever, so far as I know, that this burial was at Nemi, or that it was a grand tomb (the Latin just says "buried", sepultum). True, Caligula had a big villa there, but it is almost inconceivable that this assassinated symbol of imperial monstrosity would have been given a grand monument, plus a big statue there.

Besides there is no evidence for that whatsoever.

Much more likely is that he had a modest burial in or near the horti Lamiani, or -- as some people think -- that he was slipped into the big Mausoleum of Augustus (where many of the imperial family ended up).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Infertility and the Bible

As I noted yesterday, this is the beginning of a new series I will be doing on this blog.

Infertility is a stigma that attaches itself to some six million couples a year in the USA. Many of those couples discover their infertility unexpectedly. It is normal for two healthy people to join together in a committed relationship and expect that children will be a natural outcome of that union. But for six million each year, something goes wrong. Once diagnosis has occurred then options need to be weighed.

Statistically, 80-90% of the infertility cases that occur each year are somehow treatable medically. But for some infertile couples, the medical options are either non-existent, too expensive, or create ethical dilemmas. Adoption is an option, but is a process that can also be expensive and full of roadblocks that prove to be too emotionally draining for a couple that has had to endure the disappointment that infertility has forced upon them.

Society is not always a positive force in this struggle. Western civilization in particular is a child centered society. The advertizing and the entertainment industries are two examples of how westerners have made children the center and focus of their universe. Even as the modern notion of “family” is redefined, children are almost always assumed as somehow a necessary or vital part of that definition. Childless couples do not fit into this paradigm of family and are left standing at the peripheral of society. When a couple is childless it is often assumed that there must be a medical cure or, failing that, an adoption agency that can remedy the ‘problem’. Couples who are unable or chose not to have children sometimes feel that they have been plastered with a label that makes them less than a full participant in society. Since they do not and cannot converse about their children, do not participate in the school run and are not on the hunt for a babysitter, their status in relation to other child bearing couples is ambiguous. They are members of society, yet, there is much that does not relate to them.

A disproportionate amount of the emotional and physical weight of infertility invariably falls on the female. This is not to say that males do not experience grief and a sense of loss. But since it is the woman who carries the child, the focus is more often on her. The roles of wife and mother, as constructed by society, each carry a particular set of expectations that are not shouldered in the same way by the man. Thus while the couple is of ambiguous status in society, the woman is quite often more keenly aware of what is missing.

The Bible is of little help to the permanently childless couple. The perception of women promoted by the Bible is that their sole purpose in life will be accomplished through the bearing of children. This mind-set is found from the opening chapters of the Bible. In Genesis 3:16-18 God’s words to the woman concerns her destiny to bring forth children in pain while the man is destined to toil with the earth to produce food. This is restated in 1 Timothy 2:15 where we read that it is through the bearing of children that women will saved.[1]

A quick survey of the Bible reveals a number of stories about childless couples. Most of them focus on the woman’s apparent inability to conceive.[2] All of them, without exception, find resolution when God opens the woman’s womb.[3] Quite often the focus of readers, teachers and preachers of the Bible is on the divine intervention that finally allows the woman to bear a child and bring to fruition a previous promise made by God. The focus of this study, however, is to highlight the powerlessness to alter their circumstances that would have hindered all of these women from finding a resolution to their childlessness. So often, the situation is not appreciated for the potential disaster that hung over a childless woman. Without a child of her own, the status of a wife in antiquity was ambiguous.

This will be the focus of the blog on Wednesdays for the next few months. The purpose of this study is not to explore the modern medical and social issues related to infertility. I am a biblical scholar and science and family life is not within my purview. But the stigma and the feeling of powerlessness (real or otherwise) that often accompanies childlessness is not unique to the modern age. In antiquity infertility did more than create a social stigma. The outcome could mean a lost inheritance and social and financial ruin. In an era with limited medical knowledge about infertility and no formal adoption agencies, powerlessness to alter the circumstances was more than a feeling. It was the unavoidable reality. There was often very little that could be done. For women in particular, the consequences and stakes could be even higher.

1 On the other hand, the failure or inability of a woman to bear children is sometimes lamented. In Judges 11:39 Jephthah’s daughter is mourned before she dies because “she had never known a man”. Implicit here is not so much the lack of a sexual relationship as it is the absence of children. A similar situation is found in 2 Samuel 6:23 when Michal, Saul’s daughter, dies with the narrators comment “she had no child until the day of her death”. The expectation, then, was that women were to bear children and the failure to do so was a reason for mourning.

2 The cases of Samson and John the Baptist are less clear than others since there is no record that the fathers of these men (Menoah and Zechariah) were able to produce children with other women. Thus it is possible that the husband was the infertile one rather than the wife.

3 It is a curious, if not discouraging fact, that there are no instances in the Bible of a couple whose infertility remains unresolved. Such an absence, for whatever the reason, makes it difficult for the modern infertile couple to find solace in the pages of scripture.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Childlessness and the Bible

Tomorrow I am starting a new series on this blog based on some research that I have done over the last two years.

I have been looking at the problem of infertility and the lack of affirmation given by the Bible to infertile couples. I have written quite a bit, but I am not sure how much I will share on the blog since I hope to publish some of it in the future.

For the next couple of months I will post portions of a paper that I wrote as my presidential address for the Eastern Great Lakes Bible Society. This will happen every Wednesday.

I will be curious to hear comments from people who have struggled with childlessness.

Why Theology Matters

Being a new a New Testament scholar is sometimes like being a gynecologist. What I mean is, when you tell people who you don't know what it is you do, you sometimes get some strange responses. Usually there is an uncomfortable silence or they say something like "oh, I see. I knew someone who was a priest."

What is even more surprising, however, is the response and/or questions you get from people who you think would know better. I remember a friend from Bible College who, upon learning my plans for a Ph.D., said: "do you think all that really helps?" I think he meant "does it matter?"

Unfortunately, I also get this response from some students. They are in seminary and have been called to ministry. They got the "burning", but they don't necessarily want or think they need the "learning." They recognize they need the degree, or they won't be ordained, but they aren't interested in nor do they care about everything else. Somehow theology just is not important to them. What they don't realize is that theology matters.

One of my former students, Matthew Montonini, has posted on his blog New Testament Perspectives, a bit of his experience with seminary and why theology matters. He also posted a video that helps get to the crux of the issue. What we think about God matters and that is why theology matters.

So, for those who wonder why we study everything we do . . .

Monday, January 17, 2011

Jesus of Wikipedia: A Modern Example of Redaction

Wikipedia turns ten years old this week. While it has been a much maligned source on the internet, I find it helpful. It is a good first stop for quick answers. I would never use it as the final arbiter on most subjects, but it can often point you in the right direction

As part of the celebration, I found an interesting article detailing the life of "Jesus" entry. It details how over the course of nine years there have been thousands of edits made to the article. Sometimes information was added other times it was edited out.

The motivation behind these changes was sometimes theological and other times historical. For instance, one of the first edits was a change to a sentence that said Jesus was "a central figure in Christianity" to "the central figure". Another time disputes erupted over the correct way to date events. Should it be A.D. or C.E.? Both are now used in the article. And from time to time "vandals" messed with the article prompting "Jesus" to get a security detail to protect his article from the unorthodox.

The article is meant to be a humorous look at the life of "Jesus" on Wikipedia. But I also found that it relates in many ways to the redaction process of the gospels. Those who have studied the gospels are not only aware of the way the authors edited one another, but were also edited by later copyists. And as with Jesus of Wikipedia, details about Jesus were often changed for theological, historical and even political reasons.

It seems that the practice of redaction continues. But it has moved from papyrus and vellum to cyber space.

You can read the article about Jesus of Wikipedia here.