Friday, December 14, 2012

Blame the weather on the Bible?

Here is an interesting poll. Reuters is reporting that 4 out of 10 Americans blame weather disasters like  hurricane Sandy on biblical predictions about the end of the world than climate change. 

Here is what the article says.

Nearly four in 10 U.S. residents say the severity of recent natural disasters such as Superstorm Sandy is evidence the world is coming to an end, as predicted by the Bible, while more than six in 10 blame it on climate change, according to a new poll.
The survey by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with the Religion News Service found political and religious disagreement on what is behind severe weather, which this year has included extreme heat and drought.
Most Catholics (60 percent) and white non-evangelical Protestants (65 percent) say they believe disasters like hurricanes and floods are the result of climate change.
But nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of white evangelical Protestants say they think the storms are evidence of the “end times” as predicted by the Bible.
Overall, 36 percent point to end times and 63 percent to climate change.PRRI research director Daniel Cox said that some respondents – including 75 percent of non-white Protestants – believe extreme weather is both evidence of end times and the result of climate change.

Read the full story here.

Bible Series: Mary did you know?

I don't know if I have mentioned it before, but in the spring the History Channel will be airing a ten part series entitled The Bible. It will be a series that highlights sections of the Old and New Testaments.

Here is a video clip with some scenes from the life of Jesus with the song Mary did you know?

Book Giveaway Winners!

Congrats to our two winner!

Charlotte Yamada has won  Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes.

Annie Foerster has won the NIV Greek and English New Testament.

Charlotte and Annie, please send your details to by Monday and I will send you the books.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Funding Opportunity for a PhD in Early Christian Gospels at the University of Durham

If you are interested in persuing a PhD in New Testament with a focus on gospels you may want to consider applying to the University of Durham in the UK. I received the following announcement from Francis Watson this afternoon.

My AHRC-funded project on “The Fourfold Gospel and its Rivals” has aPhD studentship attached that will provide three years worth of homefees (or equivalent) and living expenses in 2013-16. The double focusof the project is on early Christian gospels (canonical andnoncanonical) and on gospel reception in the patristic era, whichshould cater for applicants wishing to work primarily in the NewTestament field or in patristics – although some overlap would belikely. I’d be most grateful if colleagues would draw this opening tothe attention of current or recent students who may be interested inpursuing a PhD in this area.

The following suggestions illustrate the kind of PhD topic that wouldfit the terms of the project, but many others are equally possible:

(1)     The Protevangelium of James in its relationship to Matthew andLuke, and its later historical and theological significance.
(2)      Patristic views on gospel origins, from Papias to Augustine.
(3)     The relationship between selected “gnostic” gospels (e.g. Mary,Judas, Philip, etc.) and the canonical ones.
(4)     The construction and purpose of either Marcion’s Luke or Tatian’sDiatessaron.
(5)     Revelatory discourse in John 14-16 and selected “gnostic” gospels.
(6)     The role of writing in the transmission of the early Jesustradition: how far back does it go?
(7)     Tradition, reception, and the “historical Jesus”.
(8)     Factors involved in the construction of the four-gospelcollection.
(9)     The hermeneutical significance of the four gospel collection.
(10)    Public responses to publication of newly discovered gospelliterature, c.1890-2012.

Applicants should have a good first degree in theology/religiousstudies, a completed or a current MA, and experience in the study ofthe Greek New Testament. Applications will be submitted in the normalway (for which see the Durham Department of Theology and Religionwebsite), specifying the AHRC project studentship. A detailed researchproposal will not be essential, although it may be an advantage.Preliminary enquiries may be addressed to Prof Francis Watson( The closing date for applications for thisposition will be Monday, 25 February 2013, and the successfulapplicant will be notified in early March.
 As a Durham grad I can highly recommend the program and the experience. Best of luck to all who apply!

Digital Versions of Ancient Manuscripts now Online

The University of Cambridge has announced that online publication of some of religious documents. Here is a bit from the article. 

Launched in December last year (2011), the Cambridge Digital Library has already attracted tens of millions of hits on its website. Among the 25,000 new images being made freely available at are a 2,000-year old copy of The Ten Commandments (the famous Nash Papyrus) and one of the most remarkable ancient copies of the New Testament (Codex Bezae).

HT: Pete Williams at Evangelical Text Criticism

Three links that I have chosen are:

1) The Nash Papyrus:

The Nash Papyrus. Named after the Egyptologist who purchased it at the beginning of the twentieth century, the Nash papyrus is a very fragile second-century BCE manuscript.  Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it was by far the oldest manuscript containing text from the Hebrew Bible, and even now it remains among the most ancient.

2) Codex Bezae:

The Codex Bezae is one of the most important New Testament manuscripts. Containing the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles in Greek and Latin, it is thought to date from the late fourth or early fifth century. Codex Bezae is striking in containing many unique forms of the text, including, a saying attributed to Jesus found in no other sources, a longer ending that was added to Mark’sGospel and a strikingky different version of Acts. In addition to the high-quality digital facsimile of the Codex, the Cambridge Digital Library includes a new edition of the manuscript with full Greek and Latin transcriptions, including information about its many corrections, prepared by the International Greek New Testament Project 

3) The Cairo Genizah:

The Cairo Genizah Collection (selection). The Taylor-Schechter Cairo Genizah Collection is the world’s largest and most important single collection of medieval Jewish manuscripts. Obtained from a synagogue storeroom (genizah) in Egypt in the late 1890s, the collection contains 193,000 manuscript fragments, obtained by a Cambridge professor, covering all aspects of life in the Jewish community at Fustat, near Cairo, over a period of a thousand years. The digital library currently contains several thousand items from the collection. This will expand over the next few years to include the entire collection, along with a further 7,000 fragments from the long hidden Jacques Mosseri Genizah Collection. The digitisation of the Genizah collections has been sponsored by the Jewish Manuscript Preservation Society, the Friedberg Genizah Project, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

On Preaching a Difficult Text: 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16

 Here is another installment of my Tuesdays with Thessalonians. Today I look at 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, a set of verses that have proven to be very troublesome for the church at times. In fact many NT scholars don't think they were written by Paul. I happen to do think Paul wrote them, which makes dealing with them even more difficult.

14 For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews 15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone 16 in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.

There are times in life and ministry when we are tempted to lash out against those whom we perceive to be opposing us or causing us grief. At the same time, we know that the witness of scripture often calls for a very different reaction. We are called to demonstrate self-control, to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. So when we read in the Bible a statement that appears to display a lack of these virtues it is difficult to know not only how to interpret, but how to apply such passages.

The above verses represents one of those occasions when we are left scratching our heads wondering about what we have just read and how we can preach it. Some have chosen to simply avoid the topic. The Revised Common Lectionary, for instance, omits 2:14-16 from the preaching year. Similarly, the Catholic Church’s Liturgy of Hours omits Psalms 58, 83, 109 and selected verses from others because they are “harsh in tone and would present difficulties in worship” (Kenton Sparks, Sacred Word, 46). But ignoring such problem texts could be labeled irresponsible since it assumes that people don’t read their Bible and will never wonder what to do with these verses.

The need to wrestle with these texts is highlighted by church history. There have been times when Christians, based on a reading of difficult texts like this one, enacted persecutions and oppression against Jews. One only has to look at some of the cringe inducing statements made by Martin Luther to realize that the church carries much responsibility for helping to lay the theological groundwork for the Holocaust (Martin Luther, On the Jews and Their Lies). This has led, in turn, to charges that Paul was anti-Semitic and so is, by extension, the church.

What we need to remember, however, is that Paul is using insider language to talk about his fellow Jews. And this language, harsh as it might sound to us, needs to be read in its historical and cultural context. Paul is certainly frustrated with the actions of some of his fellow Jews in relation to the gospel, but his comments should not be interpreted as his final say on the subject.  His comments about Jews are the result of a theological disagreement over the identity of God’s Messiah, not a repudiation of Israel as God’s people. There is no suggestion here that he no longer views himself as a Jew. In fact, in later letters Paul will boast of being a child of Abraham, an Israelite, a member of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews and will go so far as to wish that he could be cursed and cutoff from Christ for the sake of his own race (Rom. 11:1; 2 Cor. 11:22; Phil. 3:5). Moreover, Paul is not publicly abusing them. He is a Jew critiquing other Jews. And Paul will have similarly harsh language for his fellow Christ followers who he considers to be either perverting the gospel or challenging his authority (e.g. Gal. 5:12; 2 Cor 11). There is nothing worse than the church airing its dirty laundry for the whole world. And that is exactly what Paul is not doing here.

One thing we should take away from this passage is a caution about how we use language, especially in the public sphere. In an age when any and every word we utter can literally travel around the world in seconds we need to be cautious about the words we use. The Bible has a lot to say about the words we speak and the damage they can cause (Prov 12:18; 21:23; Luke 6:45; Col 3:8; Jas 1:26). Today, however, our culture thrives on “gotcha sound bites” and the “politics of personal destruction.” Rather than engage those we disagree with we eviscerate them with words. Christians, however, should be willing to discuss issues in ways that are consistent with the gospel.  This is true both inside and outside the church. Paul didn’t have to worry about people with whom he disagreed taking his words out of context and putting in a video clip on the internet. We, on the other hand, do not have the luxury of assuming that what we say will stay within “the four walls” of the church. While Paul may have been free to use hyperbole and insider/outsider language, such a choice is not always the best option for us today. In most cases the old English proverb “think before you speak” can help us eliminate trouble before it starts.

Let me close with this about preaching this text. It needs to be preached, but what needs to be focused on is Paul’s point here. His primary purpose here is pastoral. He wants to encourage the Thessalonians in the face of persecution. I would acknowledge the rather harsh sounding language here and even the way that it shows up elsewhere in the Bible. But I also would bring in other scriptures like Prov 13:3, Eph 4:29, and Col 3:8 to show that it is important to watch not just what we say, but how we say it. Finally, I would point to 1 Thess 4:11 where Paul talks about living in such a way that you “win the respect of outsiders.” Even though Paul may engage in some rough and tumble insider language here he is still concerned with the way the community interacts with those on the outside. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Who owns the past? Turkey Wants Statues Back.

Mausoleum of Halicarnassus
Two marble statues from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.
 Photograph: The Trustees of the British Museum
I was interested to see that Turkey is suing the British Museum to return statues from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus that was built in the 4th century BCE. Some of the statues were "acquired" by the British ambassador in 1846 others during excavations in the 1850's. The British aren't the first to move them since the Crusaders pillaged the site centuries before. You can read the whole article in Guardian

Turkey's case mirrors another one that has been in play from Greece. The Greeks have been asking for the return of the "Elgin Marbles" which were taken from the Parthenon in Greece by Lord Elgin between 1801 to 1812. These statues are also in the British Museum. 

One issue that will complicate the cases is that when the statues from Turkey and Greece were moved to Britain both of the "donor" countries were being run by the Ottomans, not the current democracies that are now in place. So there will be a question as to how a court can rule on the acts of a government that has not existed for almost 100 years.

But a bigger question that I think needs to be addressed is who owns the past? Does any country have a right to claim back artifacts from another simply because they were found on land that now incorporates a modern country? Don't get me wrong, I am not taking sides with the British Museum, but I am wondering about statue of limitations. 

If we agree that these artifacts must be returned, then where do we draw the line. If the British return the statues to the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus will the Turks in turn return artifacts that are not from Turkey? Will they return, for instance, the artifacts from Jerusalem, Megiddo, Gezer and other places in Israel and Palestine? What about all the sarcophagi that are in the Istanbul museum, but were discovered in what is modern Lebanon and Syria?  Or if we reach back even further into the past, will they return to Egypt the Obelisk of Tuthmosis III which he erected in Luxor in 1490 BCE? It made its way to Constantinople in 390 CE when it was brought there to adorn the hippodrome of Theodosius the great. 

And speaking of Constantinople/Istanbul, I suspect the Greeks would like the city back, or at least Hagia Sophia. 

My point is this, artifacts from other countries are spread all around the world, many of them in the museums of western countries. And the pillaging of artifacts is part of the dark legacy for colonialism. But I am not sure simply suing one another for particular artifacts is the best way to go about it. As in the case of Turkey, it seems that several countries could bring the same type of legal action against it. Perhaps it is time for an international discussion about who owns the past and how we are going to all share it.