Friday, October 7, 2011

Friday Book Giveaway!

As promised, this week's giveaway is Bruce Fisk's A Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus: Reading the Gospels on the Ground (Baker, 2011). I posted a review of the book on Monday as part of the Baker Books Blog Tour. Here is the blurb.
This imaginative approach to Jesus studies chronicles the journey of Norm, a fictional college graduate who travels to the Middle East to see if he can study Jesus and follow him at the same time, and if curiosity will make him a better disciple or no disciple at all.

Norm sets out on an adventure to investigate the New Testament and the life of Jesus for himself, hitchhiking simultaneously across the Gospels and the land. His travels offer students and lay readers a creative and engaging way to explore many of the major questions in Jesus studies today. Will Norm be able to reconcile his Christian faith with critical scholarship? As readers follow his faith journey, they learn the importance of asking probing questions. The book's lavish, journal-style interior design--featuring maps, photos, doodles, sketches, and email exchanges between Norm and his professor--makes it fun to read.

Now here is the best part about this week's giveaway. You can enter your name here to win a copy from the Biblical world. But you can also click on the image to the left to enter the giveaway from Baker which features Fisk's book and five others.

So enter your name below for a chance to win here and click on the link or even here for another chance to win. I will choose a winner on Sunday.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Apparently there has been quite a debate in the UK over the BBC issuing a decree that all reports will no longer use BC and AD when referring to a year, but BCE and CE. The BBC has been accused by some of "writing Christianity out of history." Before I go any further I will note that the EChruch Blog has shown that this report is false. So there is no need for the peasants to storm the BBC castle. The BBC has issued a statement saying that both BC/AD and BCE/CE are acceptable (wow what a mouthful).

But what is it about four letters after a few numbers that has some in an uproar and what is at stake here? For those who are not aware, BC stands for Before Christ and AD, from the Latin Anno Domini, Year of our Lord. The two dates are intended to mark time before and after the birth of Jesus. There is no year 0, AD begins with year 1.

BCE, on the other hand, means Before the Common Era and CE means Common Era. But CE has also meant Current Era and sometimes Christian Era, though very infrequently.

BCE and CE are used quite often by biblical scholars. One reason for this usage rather than BC/AD is because we work with many Jewish and Muslim scholars with whom we share sacred texts, but not the same conviction that it is the year of our lord. Yet some people see this as a betrayal of Christian values and that some how biblical scholars are denying the significance of the birth of Jesus and succumbing to the forces of secularization. But such accusations are not only incorrect, they are misinformed.

  1. The way that years are calculated internationally (i.e. 2011) is the result of the western, Gregorian Calendar which was introduced by Pope Gregory in 1582. Prior to that the western world used the Julian Calendar, which was established by Julius Caesar in 45 BCE. So in the grand scheme of things, the current way calculating years is new. In fact, it was only in the twentieth century that it began to be the dominate calendar.

  2. The calendar is wrong by about four years. Jesus was not born in 1 AD/CE, but 4 0r 6 BC/BCE. This has been known for sometime now, but I don't think anyone is suggesting we adjust the system.

  3. We often forget that there are other calendars that are still being used. The Chinese have their own way of calculating the years and there is also the Jewish calendar, to name two. What this means is that often we are not promoting Christianity but rather the western way of calculating time.

I use both systems. For the most part I use BCE and CE, but I will use BC and AD if I sense that my audience might object. Both work for me. But I think Christians do themselves a disservice when they insist that everyone should recognize that the world is living in a particular year of the Christian Lord. I think we would be better off living as that Lord commanded us rather than beating others over the head with a calendar.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Do Bible readers really know what they want in a translation?

The Bible is forever being translated. I am unsure how many English translations exist, but I am aware of at least ten. And there are more coming. The Common English Bible is now available for purchase and the 2011 New International Version has been available online for about a year. It seems that the desire to make the Bible more readable and accessible drives the need for new or better translations.

Readers of the Bible may not know why they like a particular translation. They may use their chosen translation because that it is what their pastor or church uses. Quite a few, I suspect, use whatever Bible translation was handed down to them.

An interesting survey by LifeWay Research indicates, however, that people may not know much about their chosen translation. According to the survey a whopping 61% prefer a word-for-word translation rather than a thought-for-thought. 75% prefer "total accuracy" in their translation.

But the stated preference of readers also stands in contrast to Bible sales figures. For instance, according to Christian Booksellers Association, the New International Version (NIV) is still the top seller not only in volume but also dollar sales. But the NIV is not a word-for-word translation, it is thought for thought. In second place is the King James Version, which is more word-for-word, followed by the New King James Version in third place. But in fourth place is the New Living Translation., which is even less word-for-word than the NIV. I suspect the second and third place showing of the KJV and NKJV has more to do with tradition than actual translation preference.

So what does this mean? That people know even less about how Bibles are translated than they do what their Bible says. I suspect most people buy a particular translation because they trust it, or were told by someone they trust that it was a good translation. But the survey suggests that their stated desires do not necessarily line up with their actions. It sounds like teachers and preachers have more work to do to help people understand how Bible's are translated. It also seems like another good reason for why church leaders should learn Hebrew and Greek.

I prefer to use Greek and Hebrew. But when I am using English I use New American Standared at home because it is more word-for-word, which I find helpful for when I translating. But I also use the New Revised Standard Version for teaching and publishing. Part of the choice has to do with convenience. The NAS is at home the NRSV at work.

What about you?

What kind or which translation do you use and why?

What do you make of the survey results?

Read here what Paul Franklyn, general editor for the CEB, has to say about word-for-word translations.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus: Blog Tour!

Over the years I have read a number of books on the gospels and the historical Jesus. Most of them were interesting. Many were helpful and some I consult regularly when researching or preparing for a lecture. But there are few that I can recommend to students or others interested in the topic. Quite often these books are not written for the biblical studies novice. They tend to be technical works that assumes much about the reader’s previous knowledge. They are written for the author’s academic peers, not necessarily for students.

But in Bruce Fisk’s A Hitchhikers Guide to Jesus: Reading the Gospels on the Ground, I have found a book that I can recommend to my students. This is not just an introduction to the Gospels and Jesus. It is a journey and Fisk proves to be a reliable guide for the reader.

I first saw the book in August at a conference in New York. I will admit then when I looked it over while standing at the Baker book table I did not think it would interest me or my students. I thought it looked a bit “quirky” with too much attempt to appeal to a younger audience.

But I now admit that the genius of Fisk’s book is that it looks and reads like no other textbook you’ve seen. Instead of being a book with chapters on methodology, sources and historical criticism, Fisk takes the reader on a trip to the holy land with Norm, a recent college graduate, who has had his first critical introduction to the gospels in college and is trying to piece together what he thought he knew about Jesus with what he has learned.

The stage is set in the first chapter when Norm boards a plan for Israel to see the land where Jesus walked and to see what he can learn. On the plane Norm encounters a woman who is curious about why Bruce, (eh, I mean Norm) is reading the letters of Pliny the Younger. This becomes an opportunity for Norm to explain to her, and the reader, about some of the ancient sources for Jesus and Christianity outside of the New Testament. Quotes from Pliny, Tacitus, and Josephus are interspersed throughout the chapter resembling little sticky notes or torn pieces of notebook paper scribbled on and used as bookmarks. The presentation of the material in this format is brilliant because the reader is learning about the history of early Christianity and the sources for that history. And it is all happening as part of a conversation between Norm and his fellow passenger as they fly to Israel. And the journey continues this way chapter after chapter as Norm meets new people and wrestles with new questions.

But this is not just a history book. The reader not only learns about what the ancients have had to say about Jesus. Fisk uses the same method to explain what New Testament scholars have had to say about Jesus over the centuries. My favorite line in the book is when “Norm” explains the results of his first encounter with Bultmann:

The day I sat down with Butlmann’s History of the Synoptic Tradition was like the day Neo took the red pill. It yanked me out of my comfortable matrix and thrust me into the harsh world of biblical criticism from which, it seemed, there could be no return. (p. 15).

This line not only describes the impact of Bultmann on New Testament studies, but the feeling that many of us had when we were first introduced to the critical study of the Bible. Along the way readers are introduced to other scholars of the New Testament, many through quotes on “sticky notes” in the pages. But the most engaging section for scholarship is the dream sequence in which Norm goes down a long corridor knocking on doors and meeting Jesus scholars such as John Meier, James Dunn, Scot McKnight and others. I won’t spoil it for you, but besides epitomizing nicely what these scholars have said about Jesus, Fisk also does a good job of characterizing them. If you know any of the people described here you will now that Fisk has described them and their work well.

One thing that not only makes this book standout from others, but also interesting, is the way Fisk has woven in details of the places in the holy land where Jesus lived and ministered. Norm visits the various tourist spots in the holy land (Israel, West Bank, Jordan) and views the story of Jesus in its geographical and archaeological context. Fisk does a good job of describing the sites, their historical value and any problems related to them (like the Via Delarosa being the supposed road Jesus walked to be crucified). But Fisk is also careful not to overlook the current events in the Middle East. He not only acknowledges the complexity of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, he integrates it into his story suggesting at times that there are parallels to be found in the story of Jesus.

Finally, what also makes this book unique, as well as useful, is the honest way in which Norm is allowed to wrestle with the tension between faith and history, between fact and tradition. Fisk does not duck the questions that historical inquiry raises about Jesus and the gospels. Through Norm, he thinks out loud about the implications of a faith that is not always able to find the security of historical moorings. He doesn’t provide any easy answers. Readers are given the materials they need to work with, but they are left to wrestle with the answers for themselves. I think this is the way it should be.

The book teaches through the story of Norm seeking to understand his faith. And, in some ways, it is like the gospels which teach us the story about Jesus. As I said in the beginning, this is a book that I did not think would interest me, but I could not put it down once I started it. Although I was already familiar with much of the material, I found it be a different and enjoyable way to interact with it. I would have thought it only appropriate for undergrads, but am now convinced that it will be valuable for my seminary students as well. I not only recommend it to you, the readers, but will adopt it next time I teach my class on the gospels.

*Don't forget to enter the contest at Baker (see to the left). And check back Friday when the Friday book giveaway will feature a copy of Fisk's book. Also, click the image below so you can read reviews by other NT scholars this week of the blog tour.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Book Giveaway Winner!

Congrats to Joel Bucklin! He is the winner of this week's giveaway.

Joel, you have five days to claim your prize or it goes back on the shelf.

Didn't win this time? Be sure to check back on Friday when I will giveaway a copy of Bruce Fisk's A Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus.