Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday Book Giveaway!

Ok blog fans, this week's giveaway is for the Old Testament folks, and anyone else who wants a chance to win. The week I am offering Walter Brueggemann's Theology of the Old Testament (Fortress Press, 2005).

Here is the blurb.

This paperback edition of Walter Brueggemann's classic work makes this important volume available at a lower price and accompanied by a CD-ROM that enhances its usefulness in numerous ways. Using the Libronix software, with helpful features for the user (searching, bookmarking, highlighting, auto-footnoting, note taking), the CD-ROM also includes chapter summaries, discussion questions, and web links to Brueggemann resources (articles, interviews, reviews).

Hmm, I am not sure that I have CD, but if I do you can have it too. So put your name below and I will draw a winner on Sunday. Remember to check back! If the winner does not claim their prize in five days it goes back on the shelf.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Ark of the Covenant has been discovered! In Greece!

Forget Indiana Jones! The lost Ark of the Covenant is not in a warehouse in Washington DC. It's on the Island of Thasos just off of mainland Greece. At least that is what the Russian web site is claiming. The discovery was announced Pita Nickolaos Kumardzis, head of a research group. They are also claiming that they have found the tomb of Alexander the Great. Here is what web site FOCUS has to say:

Athens. It is believed that the tomb of Alexander the Great and the Ark of the Covenant have been found on the Greek Island of Thasos, announced Russian, which is information partner of the Greek Minister of Culture and Tourism.

Head of the research group Pitia Nikolaos Kumardzis announced that the findings emerged during amateur excavations. According to him, some unexpected results were reported during the excavations on Thasos Island.

Greek researchers are convinced that the findings really are the tomb of Alexander the Great and the Ark of the Covenant.

Unsurprisingly, I have my doubts that they have found either. But hey, who knows. Maybe Alexander the Great found the Ark of the Covenant, opened it to look inside and got killed? Too bad he never saw Raiders of the Lost Ark. He would have known not to look!

Updated Post! Apparently the Ark of the Covenant was part of an alien manna machine.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Lego Bible

I liked to play with Legos as a kid. Actually, I never had Legos. My brother had them. He also had Star Wars action figures and a really cool set of toys to be a firemen including a plastic ax and an oxygen tank and mask. I am bitter? Not at all! But I did play with Legos, usually when he was not around or was asleep or at school.

The problem with Legos, however, is the cool stuff that they claim you can make. They plaster the front of the box with real cool scenes of, say, Lego men landing on the moon in a Lego capsule and driving a Lego moon buggy. But I have yet to meet anyone who can actually recreate those scenes. First, it requires several Lego sets. Second, I don't know many eight year old kids who have the patience and dexterity to creates such masterpieces.

So imagine my delight when a few years ago I discovered that someone had brought together my passion for biblical studies with Legos! Brendan Powell Smith has been recreating biblical scenes with Legos for ten years. And he is very good at it.

His website has a number of Bible stories recreated in Lego form. But these aren't just the kind of recreations you see in a typical Sunday School class. No Lego people standing in an old shoe box with green construction paper grass. These are well done.

But a warning to parents! Some of the scenes recreate the Bible with some amazing accuracy. So when the story of Lot and his daughters, well I think you know what I mean.

Check out the Cain and Abel story.

If you really like Smith's work you can now buy it in print form. Publisher's Weekly has a story this week about how Smith got started. It also discusses the book that he has coming out with photos of his work.

Smith started with the first six stories of the Bible and put them up on his website for friends and family to enjoy. Several thousand visitors later, he realized he has something special on his hands, and decided to stick with it. A decade later, Smith has managed to adapt most of the Old Testament and large portions of the New Testament, as well as special presentations of Biblical law and the teachings of Jesus. His depictions include some of the worst moments the Bible has to offer, but as acted by Lego people, the gruesome incidents within become easier to take.

“There’s a limit to how harrowing or horrifying a story can get when it’s depicted in little Lego figures,” said Smith. “That’s kind of a fine line too, and I like when I get across a story that is harrowing and they come away from it laughing but a little disturbed.”

Read the rest of the story here and take some time to enjoy his work at the

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Did Jesus Exist?

Anyone who has spent anytime in New Testament studies knows that there is a lot discussion and debate surrounding the historical Jesus. Did such and such event really happen?Did he say this or that? Did he think he was the messiah? And a lot of ink has and continues to be spilled over these questions and many others.

But every now and again I will meet or read about someone who suggests that Jesus never existed. That the whole story doesn't have any historical fabric and that Jesus was made up by the Apostle Paul and the early church as a way to start a new religious movement. And while this might sound crazy to "true believers" and frustrate the heck out of scholars, there is a small but vocal contingent of what is called Jesus Mythicists. And while we might be tempted to ignore them with the hope they will go away, there are some who are engaging them on a regular basis.

My friend and Colleague, Professor James McGrath, is one of those scholars. Over at his blog Exploring our Matrix, James has been actively engaging mythicists and their arguments for some time now. And the interaction has been quite stimulating from both sides.

In the recent issue of Christian Century, James explains what Jesus Mythicism "is" and why it is important to engage with it proponents. Here is a bit of what James has to say in the article.

Scholars disagree about how Jesus understood his life and his mission. Countless labels have been applied to him: cynic sage, apocalyptic prophet, rabbi, exorcist, Messiah. But everyone agrees that he existed, right?

Historians and religion scholars do. But a surprising number of people hold the view that the existence of Jesus is a myth: he is not just a heavily mythologized historical figure, but pure or nearly pure fabrication from start to finish. Jesus mythicists have a substantial web presence, and their views have been promoted in films such as Religulous and Zeitgeist.

It might seem best to ignore such fringe claims. But as we know from debates over evolution and other subjects, views that no expert finds persuasive can still have an impact on public discourse, education and much else.

As a group, the Jesus mythicists can seem like a strange mirror of the state of scholarly thinking on Jesus: the only thing they agree on is Jesus' nonexistence. Yet a few major trends are discernible.

You can read the rest of the article here. And take some time to visit James' blog. He covers a variety of topics in biblical studies, theology and science fiction.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Believing God has a plan for your life might improve your mental health.

One of the famous evangelism lines of Campus Crusade for Christ is: God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. And while the four spiritual laws might help you find salvation and escape eternal punishment, who would've thought that believing in a God's plan might also improve your mental health?

The third portion of the Baylor University Survey on Religion has been released with some interesting results. According the the survey, if you believe that God has a plan for your life you than you are more likely to be poor and less educated. On the other hand, you are less likely to have mental heath issues.

  • Most Americans (73.2%) believe that God has a plan for them. Those who feel strongly that God has something wonderful in store for them tend to have lower incomes and less education (p.2-5).

  • Heaven is a more popular notion than Hell. Nearly two-thirds of American adults (62%) absolutely believe that Heaven exists, whereas barely half (51%) express the same certainty about the existence of Hell (p.26).

  • Those who believe in a very engaged God who is involved in the world and in people’s lives fared better insofar as mental health matters included in the survey when compared to those who believe in a very judgmental God who is critical, punishing, and angered by sin (p.14-15).

  • Respondents who strongly believe they have a warm relationship with God report 31 percent fewer mental issues, on average.

  • Those who strongly believe God knows when they need support report 19 percent fewer mental health issues, on average.

  • Those who strongly believe that God is responsive to them report 19 percent fewer mental health issues.

  • Respondents who strongly believe God’s love never fails report 17 percent fewer mental health issues, on average.

What do you make of these numbers? Does believing in God or a plan of God help people to find an anchor in their life?