June 2009


Here’s a nice turn of phrase from Frank Stagg on 2 Corinthians 5.21:

God offers not just a certificate of health; he offers healing.

Frank Stagg, ‘Exegesis of 2 Corinthians 5:14-21’ in Jack P. Lewis, ed. Interpreting 2 Corinthians 5:14-21: An Exercise in Hermeneutics (Studies in the Bible and Early Christianity 17; Lampeter: Edwin Mellen, 1989), 161-78, at 176.

Macarius, Homily 28, gives this creative and insightful discussion which almost surely comes out of his thoughts on Galatians 5-6.

He begins with a few comparisons like these…Just as a house left empty, overcome by darkness and neglect, is filled with dirt and filth, so a soul which does not have Christ is filled with darkness, passions, and every sort of disgrace.  Just as a field left to itself is overrun with weeds, thorns, thistles, and wild animals, so is the soul without Christ there to tend and cultivate it.  The soul needs Christ to cultivate it so that it will bring forth the fruit of the Spirit. 

When a farmer sets out to till the ground he has to take proper tools and clothing for work in the fields: so when Christ, the heavenly king and true husbandman, came to humanity laid waste by sin, he clothed himself in a body and carried the cross as his implement and cultivated the deserted soul.  He pulled up the thorns and thistles of evil spirits and tore up the weeds of sin.  With fire he burnt up all the harvest of its sins.  When thus he had tilled the ground of the soul with the wooden plough of his cross, he planted in it a lovely garden of the Spirit; a garden which brings forth for God as its master the sweetest and most delightful fruits of every sort.

To all those moving to Durham for the coming school year: A friend of mine has told me about a house that is open to rent. Let me know if you are interested, and I’ll pass along your details. It’s probably too far to walk into campus, but from my knowledge of the area it’s got a decent number of buses. Also, it’s in the neck of the woods of Keenan House and the University Hospital.

The property is located in Pity Me on Front Street, a short walk from the Arnison Centre (where there is local Sainsburys supermarket amongst other shops). It is approximately 3 miles into Durham City and on all major bus routes into Durham, Darlington and Newcastle.

The house has 3 bedrooms, 2 double and one smaller study or childs bedroom, a large recently refurbished kitchen with dinning area, large lounge and a decent sized bathroom. The rent is £495/month, and the tenant would be expected to pay the council tax and utility bills.

There’s a new translation of Cyril of Alexandria’s Festal Letters 1-12, by Philip R. Amidon, S.J., in The Fathers of the Church series (Vol. 118). See here.  This look at his pastoral side will be interesting.

This piggy-backs on works on his commentaries on the 12 Prophets (3 volumes: FOTC 115, 116, & tbd) and also a recent publication of his Commentary on Isaiah, all of which were done by Robert C. Hill.

There is also a proposed re-translation of Cyril’s majesterial commentary on John–it runs some 1300 pages if I remember correctly–as part of the Ancient Christian Texts series by IVP.

I’m thinking about proposing to do some translation for a post doc here at Durham since we’re staying longer, so it’s good to see other work being done on him.

Here’s a good quote from Johannes Munck regarding the difference between doing NT studies and Patristics.

As a young man, feeling my way towards the study of the New Testament, I wrote a book about Clement of Alexandria. There were many surprises in the change from patristics to the New Testament. In patristics–a map with many blank spaces–there was always a feeling of gratitude for the work already done by others, and pleasure when they had reached entirely different interpretation of the texts. In the New Testament there seemed to be less elbow-room. Everything appeared to have been settled already, in our grandfather’s generation, or earlier still . . . Having criticized the traditions of the primitive Church concerning the New Testament writings and primitive Christianity, the professors had themselves come to represent tradition and authority, and there was no room for young scholars, for it was not permissible to doubt what all believed. Brilliant impartiality and ended in stolid conservatism . . .

Let us give the younger generation opportunity and encouragement to question the important, but perhaps not always [the] true or permanently valid views put forward by the generations before us. Let us go further, and urge them to question what we ourselves tell them.

With a subject like the New Testament, consisting of a certain number of facts, and a large number of theories, and assumed rather than substantiated suppositions, it is necessary to go through it from time to time, in order not to forget what is fact and what is theory.

Excerpted from “Jewish Christianity in Post-Apostolic Times” NTS 6 (1959-60), pp. 115-16

While I’m definitely playing in the NT area, maybe this is a helpful call for people to spend some time doing patristics instead of just NT. If it feels uncomfortable to take that step, at least try out the Apostolic Fathers and you’ll find out how fun it is to be able to read 90% of all the secondary literature on a work. If you are even aware of 10% of the stuff on Paul, you’re doing good.

HT: Joel at Euangelion

A week or so ago, my wife Heather took up a job as childrens/youth/family outreach worker at the our church. It’s a 3 yr post, so as long as we can keep the British govt from kicking us out of the country we’re planning to stay here until then. We were already planning on being here 1 year anyway, so this will be 2 extra–until 2012, Lord willing. I should finish my doctorate around November, ideally before SBL so nothing will be hanging over my head. For my own employment, I’m looking at trying to get a post-doctorate fellowship, and the current idea I’ve got is to do some translation of Cyril of Alexandria’s NT commentaries, which are as yet untranslated into any modern language. I’ve got a couple of meetings this week to feel out how feasible the project is. If nothing turns up, I may pimp myself out as an accountant again. :) We’re definitely excited.

I had coffee with Loren Stuckenbruck the other day and part of our discussion was about comparisons between top US and UK programs, in light of his move this summer to take up teaching at Princeton Seminary in NT and Second Temple Judaism. (We will definitely miss him here!) He said he thought the top UK programs would compete well with top US programs. I told him that I can’t really speak to the issue because of my limited scope of knowledge. However, I can say that language preparation, both Modern and Ancient, seems to be better at US programs. He generally agreed but noted that most large programs in the US don’t do any Ethiopic teaching (though PTS will when he arrives), but he has had regular classes here at Durham for a while.

Besides languages, we talked about the strength of the UK seminar system (briefly, here).  [This is in addition to participation in research modules.]  These are subject based opportunities for invited scholars from the UK and around the world to present research (a la SBL) with time for group discussion afterwards. I generally thought all UK programs had as robust of seminars as Durham. For instance, we have weekly seminars for NT and for Patristics. The OT, Theology & Ethics, and Religion & Society seminars each meet fortnightly (i.e., every two weeks). The other seminars (e.g., Judaism in Late Antiquity, Ecclesiastical History, Catholic Theology, etc) meet on an ad hoc basis with 2-3 seminars per term. This provides a depth and breadth of research areas for students and faculty to interact.

Loren, however, corrected my opinion that this environment is representative of most UK programs. I don’t know how often seminars meet in other UK programs. But as an example Cambridge’s NT seminar only meets fortnightly, and faculty are [usually] the only ones who ask questions while research students [mainly] just observe [update: see David's helpful clarifications in comments below].  At other institutions the whole Religion and Theology program meet in one seminar together (e.g., Nottingham). Obviously, this doesn’t allow much interaction with topics that one is even generally knowledgeable about.

Accordingly, the larger programs that have more research seminar diversity and frequency should have a stronger appeal to those worried about getting the stamp of ‘too narrow’ vs the broad preparation offered by the US system. One difference that Loren and I discussed is the need for official respondents from postgrads, which you often get in US seminars. Hopefully, this will be something Durham tries out in the future.

When it comes to choosing programs, the size often does influence what kinds of opportunities you’ll have. Larger programs tend to have more seminars and a larger availability of peers for your project. Durham has a healthy variety of subjects represented by the student body. With the healthy number of other NT students, I’ve always got somebody that I can bounce ideas off of or get help on something. Plus, spouses have a ready supply of friends. At the same time, at a smaller program you will probably get much more individual attention from your supervisor. I don’t think it would be a bad choice to go to a smaller program, but you should be aware of the strenghts and weaknesses of each choice.

Here are my old posts:
1: US vs UK
2: US vs UK, redivivus
2: US vs UK, pt 3
4: SBL Forum: US vs UK

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