I noticed over the weekend that Robert Orlando’s much discussed 89-minute documentary Apostle Paul: A Polite Bribe is now available for purchase on DVD or download. I’ve now watched it and was impressed by the number and names of the scholars interviewd in the film. I also enjoyed that the documentary sought both to persuade the viewer of a particular political function for the Jerusalem collection while also providing a decent (if not one-sided) summary of Paul’s life and ministry in the process, which gave the historical survey lying at the center of the film a sense of unity from beginning to end. The film certainly has an agenda to push, and I myself was not convinced, as the film suggests, that the Jerusalem collection was a failure, in that James ultimately rejected the Gentiles’ money and Paul’s Gentile mission. Unlike the director and the interviewees given prominence toward the end of the film (where Wright, Witherington, and Hurtado seems to disappear), I find no reason to believe that James and the Jerusalem believers conspired against Paul and somehow actively or passively contributed in his beating and arrest in Acts 21. Luke explains that Paul was welcomed gladly by James and company when Paul arrived in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17-26) and I find no reason to doubt the veracity of that account. Whatever the case, Orlando’s film is worth watching and reflecting upon critically critically. This could be a good documentary to show students of early Christianity, though afterward one should given plenty of time for class interaction and for fielding questions.
Tuesday, 27 May 2014
Saturday, 17 May 2014
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St. John’s College, Nottingham, has a number of great You Tube videos on theological topics. I found this well-produced, 14-minute clip of Tom Wright summazing his view of Pauline Theology. I think I’ll air this in my summer school Romans course next week when I introduce my students to Wright. (I’m trying to do more of these kinds of things in class so it’s not always just me representing other scholars, but allowing scholars to speak for themselves).
Friday, 11 April 2014
Various online news groups are reporting that the scientific studies conducted on the fragment of the so-called Gospel of Jesus’s Wife have shown it NOT to be a forgery! See, e.g., the article in he Boston Globe. See also the official Harvard Divinity School site. Can’t wait to hear the reactions of Watson, Gathercole, Goodacre, and others.
Monday, 31 March 2014
I’ve just listened to N. T. Wright’s lecture on “Israel in Pauline Theology” from the HBU conference held a little over a week ago (see below). I’ve read Wright plenty before on this and related issues, so there were no real surprises here in his exegesis and overall reading of Paul. For Wright, Jesus Christ and the multi-ethnic church are the true Israel. Thus, Paul does not anticipate any yet-fulfilled mass conversion of Israelites prior to the second coming (as the scholarly majority seems to understand Rom 11:25-26 to predict).
I’m quite happy with the way Wright interprets many individual texts, though I disagree with him on at least a couple of significant issues in the lecture (esp. Rom 11:25-26), and ultimately with his final position. I won’t quibble with the content of his exegesis, since many capable scholars have already done this elsewhere (in addition to many mainline commentators, see, e.g., the recent article by my colleague Michael G. Vanlaningham, “An Evaluation of N. T. Wright’s View of Israel in Romans 11,” BibSac 170 (2013): 179-93). But there are a few things Wright says or does (methodologically) here that I think are just plain odd, even for him.
First, given the topic of Wright’s lecture, I was surprised by how quickly he asserted his position on the meaning of “Israel of God” in Gal 6:16 and then just moved on. Near the end of the 57th minute, he says, “[In] Galatians 6:16, he [Paul] calls the church ‘the Israel of God'; I think there is no doubt about that.” That’s it. No exegesis and no argument. This is unfortunate considering how much discussion that verse has received and how many scholars plainly disagree with Wright on this text (see, e.g., Susan Grove Eastman, “Israel and the Mercy of God: A Re-reading of Galatians 6.16 and Romans 9-11,” NTS 56 : 367-95; Bruce Longenecker, “Salvation History in Galatians and the Making of a Pauline Discourse,” JSPL 2 : 65-87, at 79-80).
To be sure, Wright warns at the beginning of the lecture that he will principally focus on passages that don’t use the term “Israel” at all. I suppose that’s fine. But it is astonishing that he then so quickly bypasses those that do while also maintaining how crucial they are for a coherent reading of Paul. What I mean is that, in my opinion, Wright terribly exagerates the significance of Gal 6:16 and Rom 11:25-26 in Pauline thought when, at the 59th minute, he says, “if those passages don’t refer to the church, then Paul has just unmade the whole theological structure he has so obviously got throbbing through his head and his heart.” Again, this is just asserted, not argued: it is as if he simply forces his entire pre-conceived ecclesiology onto the two passages. Exegetical debates aside, it is just baffingly to me that Wright would place so much significance on two texts he hardly discusses in this hour-long lecture, or to put it the other way around, that he would hardly discuss two texts he considers to be so important.
Finally, as a progressive dispensationalist, I was confused at the 12th minute when he responded to the claim of some dispensationalists (not me) that in Romans 11 Paul predicts the return of the Jews to the land. Wright says in response, “This would be odd [for Paul to predict], not least, because of course when Paul wrote Romans, they [Israel] had not left it [i.e., the land] in the first place,” a comment that sounds like it incited a great deal of laughter. But what does Wright mean about the Jews having not left the land? Had the Jewish Diaspora come to an end before 57 AD? There were obviously thousands upon thousands of Israelites still scattered across the Mediterannean. So I don’t get it. This is a very odd criticism, and one that too quickly won the audience’s approval.
Nonetheless, I appreciate Wright’s attempt to read ALL of Paul and to make his entire theological vision work together, even if I disagree with how he goes about it. I may have my summer school Romans class listen to this lecture (and maybe another one of Wright’s on justification), since it provides a good representation of Wright’s system and is generally quite easy to follow.
Thursday, 13 March 2014
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Let me invite you to a major event we’re hosting here at HBU next week. N.T. Wright, former bishop of Durham and now Professor at St Andrews University, will be giving two public lectures in Dunham Theater: Wednesday (3/19) at 11am and Thursday (3/20) at 7pm. All are welcome, and there is no cost to attend nor need for registration for the conference (see below) to come to Wright’s lectures. In addition to his very helpful For Everyone series, Wright has written numerous scholarly works that have helped shape the face of New Testament studies in the last several decades, not least his Christian Origins series. In fact, his very recent work on Paul in this series will be the source of his talks here: Paul and the Faithfulness of God. (If 1600 pages is too much, check out the short version in Paul: In Fresh Perspective.)
Concurrent with Dr Wright’s visit, we are hosting a conference on Paul and Judaism. Internationally respected Pauline scholars, Beverly Gaventa and Ross Wagner, will be our other plenary speakers, in addition to shorter paper sessions. If you want to push in a little deeper on Paul, we would love for you to join us for the conference.
We hope you invite friends to come hear these excellent scholars with you. For more details on any of these items, see the conference website: hbu.edu/theologyconference
Friday, 8 November 2013
An interesting excerpt I thought I’d share from the final chapter of Brian Rosner’s recent Paul and the Law: Keeping the Commandments of God (InterVarsity Press, 2013), p. 208:
[T]he biggest task for students of Paul is to clarify the sense in which, and the extent to which, the apostle repudiates, replaces and reappropriates the Law of Moses.
With respect to the law, Paul is like the restaurant proprietor who fires a waitress, replaces her, and then hires her as the maitre d’ and as the sommelier. Her function of serving tables would end and someone else would perform that role. But she would then carry out two different functions in the restaurant, as hostess and as manager of the wine service. To get the full picture of the status of this particular woman one needs to take all three moves into account, namely her termination, substitution and rehiring.
The solution to the puzzle of Paul and the law is hermeneutical. Rather than asking which bits of the law Paul retains and which he rejects, a hermeneutical approach starts by acknowledging the unity of the law and asks instead, when Paul speaks positively or negatively about the law, in which capacity the law is functioning… Christ has abolished the law as law-covenant (Eph. 2:15), but faith in Christ upholds rather than abolishes the law as prophecy (Rom. 3:31); and Paul does not appeal to the commandment to obey’s one’s parents as law (Eph. 6:1-2), but as advice concerning how to walk in wisdom (cf. Eph. 5:15).
A very interesting analogy. Reactions?
Wednesday, 4 September 2013
The very latest issue of New Testament Studies is now available. It features the work of several Durham alumni (including me, Jonathan Linebaugh, Helen Bond, and Daniel Frayer-Griggs) and looks to be quite well rounded, with contributions focusing on NT history, exegesis, historical theology, onomastics, gnostic gospels, and textual criticism. My piece (“Sold under Sin: Echoes of Exile in Romans 7.14-25″) takes the baton from Marc Philonenko and others in arguing that Paul was influenced by his reading of Isaiah 49-50 in the latter part of Romans 7. Here is the abstract:
Although Romans has been heavily mined for scriptural allusions in recent years, the influence of Isaiah 49-50 on Rom 7.14-25 has gone largely unnoticed. Building on Philonenko’s work on the allusion to Isa 50.1 in the phrase ‘sold under sin’ (Rom 7.14), this study seeks to identify additional echoes from LXX Isa 49.24-50.2 in Rom 7.14-25 and to interpret Paul’s discourse in the light of the sin-exile-restoration paradigm implied by both the source’s original context and Paul’s own strategic use of Isaiah in his portrayal of the plight of ἐγώ. The identification of these echoes, it is suggested, aids in interpreting the story of ἐγώ by connecting the allusions to Israel’s early history in Rom 7.7-13 to images of the nation’s later history in 7.14-25, thus showing the speaker’s plight under sin to be analogous to Israel’s own experiences of deception, death, and exile.
Tuesday, 11 December 2012
I had a friend ask why, according to NT Wright, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees. I gave this response:
The Pharisees were, according to Wright, as concerned with the need for a political solution of purity as well as the religious, which I think is important to remember. In the ancient world religion and politics were explicitly mixed, whereas today it is more implicit or at least mostly on the level of rhetoric rather than practice. Thus when Jesus was preaching the Kingdom of God, the Pharisees could easily get on board with that as a restored kingdom of Israel, which entailed kicking out all the impure gentiles much like had happened with the Hasmoneans and the Hanukkah story. However, the way that Jesus went about bringing in the kingdom was not through rebellion, which didn’t fit with the Pharisaic mindset of zeal for purity. Rather, Jesus’ vision included not only the impure Jews as included in the kingdom but also the (really) impure Gentiles.
NTW in his own words on this:
the rigorous application of the law in the way we have observed, as a defence against Gentiles and hence as a reinforcement of national boundaries and aspirations, had become, in Jesus’ view, a symptom of the problem rather than part of the solution. The kingdom of the one true god was at last coming into being, and it would not be characterized not by defensiveness, but by Israel’s being a light to the world; not by the angry zeal which would pay the Gentiles back by their own coin (as Mattathias had advised his sons), but by turning the other cheek and going the second mile. The command to love one’s enemies, and the prohibition on violent revolution, constituted not an attack on Torah as such but a radically different interpretation of Israel’s ancestral tradition from those currently on offer. Jesus, precisely in affirming Israel’s unique vocation to be the light of the world, was insisting that, now that the moment for fulfilment had come, it was time to relativize those god-given markers of Israel’s distinctiveness. (Jesus and the Victory of God, 389)
Friday, 31 August 2012
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Cambridge University Press has begun advertising the forthcoming release (January 2013) of Mark D. Mathews’s monograph, Riches, Poverty, and the Faithful: Perspectives on Wealth in the Second Temple Period and the Apocalypse of John (SNTSMS 154). This release is very exciting. Mark is a fellow Durham grad; we started together in 2007 and submitted our theses within days of each other in 2010. Mark and I were also neighbors in Durham for two years. His doctoral work was supervised by Loren Stuckenbruck, so when Loren moved to Princeton in 2009, Mark and his family followed him there. Mark is now in full-time church ministry at Bethany Presbyterian Church, near Philadelphia.
Here are the book summary and table of contents:
In the book of Revelation, John appeals to the faithful to avoid the temptations of wealth, which he connects with evil and disobedience within secular society. New Testament scholars have traditionally viewed his somewhat radical stance as a reaction to the social injustices and idolatry of the imperial Roman cults of the day. Mark D. Mathews argues that John’s rejection of affluence was instead shaped by ideas in the Jewish literature of the Second Temple period which associated the rich with the wicked and viewed the poor as the righteous. Mathews explores how traditions preserved in the Epistle of Enoch and later Enochic texts played a formative role in shaping John’s theological perspective. This book will be of interest to those researching poverty and wealth in early Christian communities and the relationship between the traditions preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls and New Testament.
Table of Contents
Part I. Introduction: 1. The question of wealth in the Apocalypse
Part II. The Language of Wealth and Poverty in the Second Temple Period: Introduction
2. Dead Sea Scrolls: non-sectarian Aramaic documents
3. Dead Sea Scrolls: non-sectarian Hebrew documents
4. Dead Sea Scrolls: sectarian Hebrew documents
5. Other Jewish literature
Part III. Wealth, Poverty, and the Faithful Community in the Apocalypse of John: Introduction
6. The language of wealth and poverty in the seven messages – Rev 2-3
7. The present eschatological age – Rev 4-6
8. Buying and selling in Satan’s world – Rev 12-13, 18
9. Final conclusions.
Wednesday, 22 August 2012
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So we are familiar with Jesus being described as the son of David. However, a listener to BBC Radio 4 asked whether this might not be so significant because there could potentially have been many such descendants at the time. Of course, we recognise that this description carries a particular theological significance in the Bible, but it nevertheless raises an interesting question: how many descendants of David (assuming he was a historical figure) might there have been in Jesus’ day?
The startling and non-intuitive answer by evolutionary biologist Dr Yan Wong is that, mathematically speaking,
all of Jesus’ contemporaries [would] be descended from David… This is a good illustration of what’s been called the “genealogical paradox”
A mathematical possibility does not, presumably, tell us very much about actuality, although it is a very interesting idea (with implications for claims of common Abrahamic descent, etc.). For the full argument, and rather mind-boggling mathematics, see here. The podcast for the associated radio programme, More or Less, is also available for download.