I (Ben) got interviewed a few weeks ago by David Stark for a blog series he’s doing on how to write when you’ve got multiple projects and commitments. Though a few weeks old, I’m just now posting about it myself because of a paperwork bomb that blew up here at HBU and sucked up an inordinate amount of my time. Perhaps you might find something helpful…

Perhaps you might know this but Forrest Gump is a modern take on Voltaire’s Candide, which was a critique of Leibniz’s monergistic perspective. While the movie Forrest Gump does not directly address monergism and synergism, the key theme is a debate between destiny and chance.

I had a student pull together key clips to pull this out several years ago. YouTube must be recommending it because it’s gotten a lot of recent comments, so I figured I’d pass along the clip as well:

If you are interested in further ideas about monergism and synergism in the Christian tradition, check out my forthcoming book where we compare and contrast how this works in regard to various perspectives on sin and salvation: Engaging Theology: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Introduction.

Why read Mark in dialogue with ancient Jewish sources? One reason: Jesus was a Jew. This point seems simplistic and every scholar and, in fact, lay person knows this. But knowing it and trying to make sense of it are two different things. Jesus lived and Mark wrote in a world different from our own, and the best way we have today to inhabit their world with them is to study them alongside other literature from that time period.

There are several benefits that come from studying Mark and Jesus alongside their contemporaries. First, scripture opens up to us. Figures like Herod, the Pharisees and Sadducees come alive. Jesus’ words about the kingdom of God or the strange figure of the “Son of Man” begin to make more sense. We can better understand the distinctiveness of Jesus, as well as see how he was a typical Jew in so many ways.

A second benefit is the converse of the first: scripture becomes mysterious. Many of us contain or constrain the mystery of scripture. We bypass the awkwardness, ignoring it or forcing it into paradigms we are more comfortable with. Yet, when we read Mark or study Jesus alongside their contemporaries, it flags for us that Scripture is not a 21st century text. We realize that Mark tells a strange story about a crucified messiah, a figure who belonged to his ancient context and yet exploded beyond it. Reading Mark alongside other Jewish literature helps us see that Mark—and Jesus—are redefining reality both in their ancient contexts and in ours. Jesus becomes a mystery again, a figure we can’t contain.

Why read Mark in dialogue with ancient Jewish sources? Because we discover the wonder of Jesus in new, refreshing and life changing ways.

Get Reading Mark in Context (Zondervan) at Amazon.

The dean over our area has shifted to a couple of new roles here at HBU after doing an excellent job overseeing our School of Christian Thought, consisting of four departments: Theology, Philosophy, Classics and Biblical Languages, and Apologetics. I was tapped on the shoulder to help out, so for 2015-2016 I’ll serve as the interim dean. Of course the transition into this role started this month, as we (John, Jason, and I) were trying to finish up the editing for a volume we put together–Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination. In particular, we had to write the introduction, and I had done less in other parts, so it was rightly my role to fill. It’s almost finished, but after several days of consistent meetings and issues to solve due to the new role, I was reminded of a quip that Richard Hays passed on to me a year or so back that someone told him when he took over the Dean’s role at Duke:

In the first year in administration you cease to write. In the second year you cease to read. In the third year you cease to think.

(My apologies for forgetting the source of the original quote.)

Though I’m only a week or so into the job, I can see how this is true!

Reading Romans in ContextSo our Reading Romans in Context: Paul and Second Temple Judaism was officially released yesterday. A friend tweeted that it was on high on an Amazon ranking, even beating out N.T. Wright for something. When I first went looking I searched under “Amazon Hot New Releases”. Then I drilled down through various sub-options: “books,” “Christian books,” and then “Bible Studies” to get here. We were sitting at #16 at the beginning of the evening, and already dropped to #19 by last night. Glory is fleeting.

Then I went and looked at the specific page for our book, my heart was elevated again. We were listed as #1 New Release in Paul’s Letters. That was cool and then I even noticed that we’re beating out an N.T. Wright book: Paul and His Recent Interpreters.

So, I learned my lesson. I can be number 1 if I just draw the circle small enough. As I always tell my wife, she is my favorite wife. : )

I see that the REF 2014 results were released today, so I was very interested to see how the various departments around the UK performed for Theology and Religious Studies. (For those that are not aware, the UK rates the research output for each of the university departments to help determine funding.) For some reason they don’t provide a weighted ranking of the departments, so I’ve done a quick assessment based on the overall percentages given a 0-4 ranking based on the recognized excellence at a national vs international level (see description at the bottom). I was surprised by some of the overall rankings especially given the previous results (see below), but I’ll reserve commentary here and just provide the results. The GPA is the weighted average of the 0-4 ranking. You’ll see that Durham is the top ranked department, just as it was for the most recent previous exercise: the 2008 RAE.

2014 REF Overall Results for Theology and Religious Studies Departments

% of the submission meeting the standard for:
University GPA 4* 3* 2* 1* U/C FTE
Average (FTE Weighted) 2.91 28 40 27 5 0 12.5
University of Durham 3.34 50 35 14 1 0 24.8
University of Birmingham 3.26 51 28 17 4 0 9.0
Lancaster University 3.15 42 33 23 2 0 22.3
University College London 3.15 37 41 22 0 0 7.0
University of Leeds 3.15 33 49 18 0 0 10.8
University of Cambridge 3.12 34 46 19 0 1 24.4
University of Kent 3.11 38 37 23 2 0 7.9
University of Edinburgh 3.09 34 44 19 3 0 26.6
King’s College London 3.08 39 37 18 5 1 26.0
Cardiff University 3.06 33 43 21 3 0 8.6
School of Oriental and African Studies 3.04 29 49 20 1 1 14.3
University of Oxford 3.02 34 38 24 4 0 32.7
University of Exeter 3.01 21 62 14 3 0 11.2
University of Nottingham 3.01 30 44 23 3 0 15.7
University of Manchester 2.97 28 47 20 4 1 14.5
University of Sheffield 2.93 21 51 28 0 0 4.0
University of St Andrews 2.93 31 31 38 0 0 14.0
University of Aberdeen 2.88 29 39 24 7 1 19.0
University of Bristol 2.85 21 45 32 2 0 8.6
Heythrop College 2.82 22 40 36 2 0 15.8
Open University 2.71 18 35 47 0 0 6.0
University of Wales Trinity Saint David 2.64 14 48 26 12 0 8.2
University of Glasgow 2.56 11 44 35 10 0 10.9
Canterbury Christ Church University 2.52 6 47 40 7 0 9.0
Roehampton University 2.47 16 27 45 12 0 6.8
Liverpool Hope University 2.37 9 37 38 14 2 14.9
University of Chester 2.35 8 27 57 8 0 11.1
University of Winchester 2.33 6 36 43 15 0 8.4
University of Gloucestershire 2.21 3 30 52 15 0 5.3
St Mary’s University, Twickenham 2.2 9 26 41 24 0 4.8
York St John University 2.07 2 23 57 16 2 7.0
Leeds Trinity University 1.99 0 34 32 33 1 3.5
Newman University 1.79 0 26 28 45 1 2.0

For a quick comparison, here are the top 5 of the 2008 RAE Results:

% of the submission meeting the standard for:
University GPA 4* 3* 2* 1* U/C FTE
University of Durham 3.00 40 25 30 5 0 19
University of Aberdeen 2.95 15 65 20 0 0 18
University of Cambridge 2.90 35 25 35 5 0 32
University of Oxford 2.90 30 35 30 5 0 41
University College London 2.90 30 40 20 10 0 7.2

GPA – Weighted average of the % of the submission meeting the standard for:

  • 4* Quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour.
  • 3* Quality that is internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour but which falls short of the highest standards of excellence.
  • 2* Quality that is recognised internationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour.
  • 1* Quality that is recognised nationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour.
  • Unclassified Quality that falls below the standard of nationally recognised work. Or work which does not meet the published definition of research for the purposes of this assessment.

FTE – Full Time Equivalent faculty members who rated

I totally stole this post from Michael Barber, but who could resist. Plus, I want to all of you to be saved from academic marginalization…

If you are a serious Pauline scholar, you apparently know what he looked like.

Michael Bird, Chris TillingNijay Gupta, Ben Blackwell, Nathan Eubank–take note. If you decide on using a different picture of the Apostle on your future books on Paul, be forewarned that you will risk being marginalized. Go the safe route. Go with the majority opinion. Don’t question the emerging consensus on Paul’s appearance and opt for a more controversial position.
You’ve been warned. Your academic credibility is on the line here.

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.

I have an article in the latest volume of JBL (131.3 [2012], 547-66) titled “Voluntary Debt Remission and the Parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-13).” JBL doesn’t include abstracts, but here is a lengthy soundbite at the end of the survey/critique of existing interpretations that, more or less, explains what I try to do in the piece:

Numerous other interpretations could be presented here, each with its own shortcomings. The foregoing survey, however, has sufficiently demonstrated the common assumption underlying most of these inadequate explanations, namely, that unless the steward is deducting from his own profits, the reductions are to be viewed as hostile to his master, or in the words of Douglas E. Oakman, as “betrayal” and “an abrogation of the then-current social mores of fidelity.” Kloppenborg similarly remarks, “[T]he natural implication of the story is that the steward’s actions are injurious to the master’s interests.” Schellenberg concurs, explaining, “The expectation within the world of the parable [is] that loyal stewardship requires meticulous collection of the master’s debts.” But these assumptions rest on a limited understanding of the purpose and function of debt remission in the ancient economy. And since, as Klyne Snodgrass suggests, “[t]his is a parable where one must fill in the blanks,” in this essay I will offer a new explanation of the master’s praise based on the general custom of lease adjustment in the early empire. Through the testimony of Roman landowners such as Pliny the Younger, Cicero, and Columella, as well as those represented in leasing contracts from early Roman Egypt, I will demonstrate that the instability of land tenancy during the early imperial period quite often required wealthy proprietors to reduce debts (rents and arrears) in order to enable and encourage their repayment, as well as to secure the longevity of their tenants and their own long-term profitability. Debt remission in antiquity, then, was advantageous both to landlords and tenants, an insight that has significant implications for the interpretation of our parable (552-53).

If you interested in matters relating to the ancient economy and/or the interpretation of this confusing parable, I would encourage you to check out the article.

Congrats to John on word of his thesis being published.  His publication reminded me about a recent conversation my son and I had about my research and writing:

Me: That’s a money making kind of book. My books won’t be anything like that.
Son: If you won’t make any money, why would you write it?
The Wife: (chuckling) He wants to share his ideas and knowledge with the academic world.
Son: Dad, why don’t you just update a Wikipedia page?!?!“

While some may wonder if my work is even worthy of Wikipedia, hopefully it’s better for the peer reviewing it got. From conversations with John, I know Cambridge spends a good bit more time on copy editing than Mohr Siebeck does.

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