Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Biblical World Celebrates Two Years!

Today is the Biblical World's blogiversary!

Two years ago I began this blog on a whim. My first post described it as something of an experiment. At the time I was not sure how often I would post and if anybody would even read it. Since then I have tried to post five days a week and discovered that I enjoy blogging. I have posted 686 times and received over 390,000 visitors. I suspect I will break the 400,000 mark by the end of July.

Blogging is a lot of work and I sometimes wonder if it is all worth it. Then I hear a comment from someone about the blog and how much they enjoy it. These comments encourage me to keep blogging.

So many thanks to all my readers. I am glad you enjoy the blog and I look forward to another year. Who knows, maybe we will break the one million mark this year.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey, the Song of Solomon, Red Letter Bibles and the Muslim Jesus. It must be July!

The summer months, especially July, tend to be slow in the biblioblogging world. I find that this is also a time when some of the more "unusual" stories surface in the news since most of us doing interesting work in the field are out doing that work. For instance, I am busy working on my Thessalonians commentary so my attention has been focused there. But I thought I would share some interesting as well as bizarre stories that are out there. 

Although I have not read it, I am aware that a book titled Fifty Shades of Grey is quite popular at the moment. From what I understand it is making erotic literature mainstream for women. While I am sure there are also more than a few men reading the book at least one has admitted it publicly. And he is a pastor. Pastor Charles Kyker has read the book and claims that he sees similarities between the book and the Song of Solomon. Here is his analysis.

Kyker said he felt that by comparing “Fifty Shades of Grey,” by British author E.L. James, to the Song of Solomon, he would be able to shed some light on what marriage is, and how you can sustain passion in a marriage for its duration.
There are several similarities between Solomon and the book’s main character, Christian Grey, Kyker said. Both men were wealthy and respected, he said. There is also a bit of mystery involved with each.

Sounds pretty thorough to me. But I still don't think I will read the book. I read Song of Solomon once and that was enough for me. I really didn't find the description of the woman all that enticing. I once sketched her out on paper and ended up with a woman with hair that looked like a flock of goats, sheep for teeth, and two gazelles for breasts. Not really my type. But if you are interested in attending a church  that helps you compare Fifty Shades of Grey with the Song of Solomon then you should call Kyker since he is planning a four week series on the theme. Read the article here.

Among other things you wish people didn't say is a report that a Christian professor in Iowa is saying that Jesus was a Muslim.
Ignoring the historical timeline in which Jesus taught some 2,000 years ago in the Middle East and the advent of Islam is dated six centuries later, after Christianity had impacted much of the known globe, Robert F. Shedinger, who wrote “Was Jesus a Muslim?” said his research convinced him of Jesus as aligning in thought with Islam.
In fairness it appears that what Shedinger is getting at is that both Jesus and Mohammed had similar ideas in the area of social justice. Of course saying something provocative like Jesus was a Muslim will help you to sell books. I suspect Shedinger will bee brought before the local inquisition very soon. In the mean time I know of a church that might be willing to let him come lecture, right after the Fifty Shades of Grey sermons. Read the article here

Moving on from stupid things people say is a new product you didn't know you needed, a red letter Old Testament. Are you tired of reading all of those genealogies you don't care about? All of that geography you don't understand?  Tired of reading about Canaanites, Hittites, Perizites and flea bites? Then you need the red letter Bible that allows you to skip over all of that and go right to the words spoken by God.

“I’ve never understood why people make most Bibles showing red letters in the New Testament only, when it’s the same God as in the Old Testament,” Kovacs said. “Seeing the Creator’s personal remarks highlighted in the Old Testament is something every lover of God and the Bible needs to experience. You don’t want to miss a single word spoken by our loving God, and ‘The Divine Secret’ helps provide the prominence they deserve.”
Kovacs says seeing the words of God in red in the Old Testament makes Christians all the more aware about who the God of the Old Testament really is, and also makes it easier to understand all of God’s divine instructions.

Of course this opens up serious questions about one's theory of inspiration, but heck, lets just get to the good stuff. Who cares what Abraham, David, or Isaiah had to say? I mean, we can assume that the words of God are direct quotes and have not been mediated by humans . . can't we? I wonder if the are any red letters in the Song of Solomon?  Read the article here.

You can tell that there is a lack of good ideas in Hollywood because not only are they remaking all of the old movies and TV shows, they are doing the Bible. Again! Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott are reported to be doing a movie on Moses (think ET meets Gladiator) and Darren Aronofsky is doing one on Noah. I am sure these will be great films (I wonder if they will consult Fifty Shades of Grey at some point?). But not looking to be left behind (oops, sorry) Will Smith is reportedly interested in doing a film on Cain and Abel. I suspect it will be a very short film: Brother hates brother. Brother kills brother. Remaining brother builds a city and lives happily ever after. Of course if they are looking to expand the story a bit I can recommend a good book on the topic. Read the article here.

Finally, on a more serious note. No, really. The Washington Post is reporting that Steve Green, owner of Hobby Lobby stores and purveyor of Chinese made goods, is planning to build a Bible museum in Washington DC. Green is the owner of some 40,000 artifacts that he wants to put on general display. Washington D.C. was chosen as a possible site for the museum since it is closest to the greatest concentration of the US population. No word yet on whether any copies of Fifty Shade of Grey or the Song of Solomon will be on display. Read the article here.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Medicine in the Ancient World

Column Base with Symbol of Asklepios
One of the sites that I visited in Turkey last month was the city of Pergamum, one of the seven churches from the book of Revelation. Most will know Pergamum as the place where "where Satan lives," a possible allusion to either the temple to Zeus that was located there or the temple to Caesar Augustus. But many will not know about the other, less infamous reason Pergamum was so well-known in Asia Minor and beyond.

Pergamum was the site of an ancient healing center, what we call today a hospital. But in antiquity, unlike today, science and religion were not separate. They were closely linked since the god of healing was Asklepios and the the ancient "hospital" was the temple to Asklepios where the priests cum doctors worked. Many people don't realize it, but the modern symbol for medicine, the snakes on the staff, has nothing to do with Numbers 21 story of  Moses and the snakes in the wilderness. The symbol is that of Asklepios.

The Asklepion at Pergamum was so well-known in the ancient world that a famous second century doctor named Galen moved there to study and work and developed many of his ideas about the human anatomy there. We still have many of his writings today.

While in Turkey we also had the chance to have dinner with Sarah Yeomans who teaches at the University of West Virginia and is a  speleologist,  which means she is an expert on ancient caves and sewers. Over at the Biblical Archaeology Blog Sarah has a good article explaining medicine in the ancient world. I suspect her connection with Asklepios and medicine is due to the Asklepion at Pergamum having a long underground tunnel that channeled water used for the healing process. It is an interesting article.

Tunnel at Pergamum Asklepion leading from the spring to the "hospital"

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The dos and don'ts of why you learn Greek

Every year when I teach Greek I hear the same question from at least one of my students: 

"Why do I need to learn Greek when we have so many good English translations?"

Over at the Relevant Magazine blog Ben Stevens has some good reasons to learn Greek. Here is how the article starts:
Somewhere in New York City right now, a 22-year-old Muslim is working on his Arabic. Just down the street, a young Jew is working on his Hebrew. But for whatever reason, the Christian who lives on the same block would never think to try to read the New Testament in its original Greek. In fact, most Christians (maybe even some reading this article?) have probably never even seen the book that guides their lives in its native language. Given what Christians think about the Bible, and the fact that so many of us read it daily, I have always found that very discouraging.
Ben goes on to list 8 helpful tips for learning Greek. 

  1. Learn Greek for the sake of grasping the historical divide.
  2. Don't learn it to quote the original words to people.
  3. Do learn it to bring more focus to your reading.
  4. Don't learn it so you can catch something everyone else missed.
  5. Do learn it to offer a reason for the hope you have.
  6. Don't feel like you have to learn it because your pastor did.
  7. Do learn it for the real excitement of reading the original words.
  8. Don't learn it because you expect it to be easy.

It really is a good article and he says some of the very things I tell my students. Read it here. 

HT: Ben Blackwell.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Yes, Virginia, there really was a Jesus

It has become fashionable in some internet circles to declare that Jesus never existed. Those who claim this are known as mythicists and they accuse the early Christians of making up the entire story of Jesus. While this is not necessarily a new phenomenon, it has been picking up steam on some blogs. And the response from New Testament scholars has been overwhelming. Yes, there really was a Jesus. 

The fact is, one doesn't need to "believe in" Jesus to believe that he actually existed. No less  a scholar than Bart Ehrman, former evangelical turned agnostic and arch rival of conservative scholars, has come out in support of the existence of Jesus as a historical person

In a recent article on the Huffington Post Craig Keener has also come out in support of a historical Jesus. Craig is a good historian and outlines some of the evidence we have for Jesus while at the same time dismissing the claims of the mythicists. Here is some of what he says. 

Contrary to some circles on the Internet, very few scholars doubt that Jesus existed, preached and led a movement. Scholars' confidence has nothing to do with theology but much to do with historiographic common sense. What movement would make up a recent leader, executed by a Roman governor for treason, and then declare, "We're his followers"? If they wanted to commit suicide, there were simpler ways to do it.
One popular objection is that only Christians wrote anything about Jesus. This objection is neither entirely true nor does it reckon with the nature of ancient sources. It usually comes from people who have not worked much with ancient history. Only a small proportion of information from antiquity survives, yet it is often sufficient.
We recognize that most people write only about what they care about. The only substantive early works about Socrates derive from his followers. The Dead Sea Scrolls extol their community's founder, but no other reports of him survive. The Jewish historian Josephus claims to be a Pharisee, yet never mentions Hillel, who is famous in Pharisees' traditions. Israeli scholar David Flusser correctly observes that it is usually followers who preserve what is most meaningful about their teachers, whether the leaders were Buddha, Muhammad, Mormon leader Joseph Smith or African prophet Simon Kimbangu.

You can read the whole article here

Monday, July 9, 2012

Circumcision: What can/should the government limit?

Turkish Boys Dressed for Circumcision
Circumcision is not something that we talk about a whole lot in polite conversation in the USA. It is a topic that most people know about, but few discuss. Most males in the USA are circumcised as infants. If you are a gentile it usually happens in the hospital soon after birth. If you are Jewish it happens eight days later during a ceremony with a Rabbi.

In Christian circles it is a topic that does surface a bit more since the Bible mentions it numerous times. The letters of Paul and the book of Acts recount some of the debates over circumcision that took place in the early church. And even though the New Testament comes down against the requirement of circumcision for gentile Christians, most in the USA are circumcised, but not for religious reasons.

 But outside of the USA the topic is looked at quite differently. I remember an American couple living in the UK who were trying to get their newborn son circumcised. No hospital or doctor would do it. The couples had to find a local Rabbi to perform the procedure. The locals who were part of our small group were quite vocal that the child should not be circumcised since they considered it barbaric. It was my first encounter with anyone who was opposed to the practice. For me, it was just what happened in life.

During my recent trip to Turkey I witnessed a different take on the practice. While it is banned in the UK and   quietly done in the USA, it is celebrated in Turkey. There the boy is not circumcised until he is eight years old. The day is a big party and friends and family are invited to witness the procedure. A few days prior to that day the young boy walks around with a special hat with feathers and a sort of cloak (see pic above). Everyone knows that this means his day of circumcision is soon approaching. I cringed several times as I walked through the streets of Istanbul and saw a young boy with a hat and feather.

I bring this up because the practice of religious circumcision has been in the news twice lately.

In Germany, a judge has ruled that the practice must be banned because it commits bodily harm on the young boy. Muslims and Jews have reacted against the ruling. In New York, health officials are considering banning one form of circumcision since it can cause the infant to contract herpes.

Another recent example of the state imposing its will on religious practice, though not because of health concerns, is France's ban on Muslim women wearing headscarves. 

My question is this. To what degree does the state have jurisdiction over the freedom of religious practice? Can or should the state ban a practice if it deems it to be harmful? I am not aware of any states that allow animal sacrifice, and even the use of animals in worship, as with snake handlers, is usually banned. But at what point does the state have the right to stop a religion from carrying out its practice?

Guide to Biblical Turkey Giveaway Winner

Congratulations to Kevin Fiske! He is the winner of Mark Wilson's Guide to Biblical Turkey. Kevin, send your mailing details to and I will mail you the book.

Many thanks to Tutku Tours for sponsoring the giveaway by providing a copy of Wilson's book.