Wednesday, July 29, 2009
A great book I would love to plug is Richard Bauckham's The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple. It is a great collection of previously published essays by Bauckham on a wide variety of issues related to the historiography and theology of the Gospel of John. Some of the more unique articles in my opinion would be his revisiting of the issue of John and the Qumran sectarians. In the essay he goes against the arguments of Raymond Brown and James Charlesworth (See John and the Dead Sea Scrolls and The New Testament and the Dead Sea Scrolls edited by Charlesworth for Brown and Charlesworth's arguments) and links the dualistic imagery of John the wider context of intertestamental literature. I may be biased with regard to Bauckham's position as I argued it unaware of Bauckham's approach in my essay The Metaphors of Good and Evil in the Second Temple Period.
Another interesting article is on the gematria of the Gospel of John. Focusing on the 153 fish Bauckham puts forward a rather unique argument for the unity of John - namely with regard to the commonly held positions with regard to the prologue and epilogue.
I will hopefully expand on this book in the near future - but I must say, Bauckham's work has played an important role in my own positions recently.
See Craig Blomberg's review until I return.
If you are inspired to purchase this book, the Amazon link here is great value!
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
The introduction of the book acts on its title – Why the Headlines Almost Always Get Him Wrong. The premise of the question is that the headlines do usually get it wrong and that is a statement I wholeheartedly agree with. The issues of the Talpiot family tomb has been raised the past few Easters without fail; the hype of the so-called ‘Lost Gospels’ (and more recently that of Judas) constantly raises its head; the sensationalism of Barbara Thiering and her Dead Sea fiction and many others which have received such media attention are, and in my opinion, will always be at the edge of the scholarly field. The headlines play their part – sensationalism that rocks the foundations of religion – or even our political leaders.
Specifically in this book Dickson sets up the field to interact with the popular published works of the so-called ‘Nouveau Atheists’ as well as John Shelby Spong’s recent addition, Jesus for the Non-Religious. Here I would like to note that Dr Dickson has earlier interacted with the pseudo-historical claims of Hitchens, Onfray and Dawkins in a paper presented to the Society for the Study of Early Christianity at the May 2008 Conference. (The paper may be found in the June 2008 Society Newsletter.) Similarly, Bishop of Durham N.T. Wright in his little 1995 book Who Is Jesus? has also interacted with the earlier works of Spong.
Dickson then addresses the issue of the mainstream and margins of academic scholarship. Namely, the mainstream is established through scholarly peer-review and acceptance whilst the margins are often self-representative individuals. The mainstreams are generally silent in the media as opposed to the margins (reminiscent of the Jesus Seminar publicity of earlier days in North
Dickson sets down a caveat – that is, he will be re-presenting the works of leading experts with his “historian’s hat” on. He drops the presuppositions of inspiration and claims to treat the text as just that – a text by various authors from the first century as one should approach any other ancient source. Dickson will attempt to examine what we can know, historically, about the life of Jesus from the most objective standpoint he can bring himself to. As a result, Dickson emphasizes, he will not be able to fill in all the gaps of what he believes about Jesus as historical methodology (multiple attestation or the presuppositions against miracles to just name two examples) would place these beyond historical certainty.
In chapter one, Jesus on the Margins of History, Dickson begins with the basics of ancient historical inqqury. He emphasises that we can only reliably reconstruct history on the evidence we possess – and that evidence is generally scant and random. We must account for this in our reconstructions. Regarding the Gospel Dickson makes use of the Pool of Siloam of John 9 that I myself am so fond of. (pp.16-17) In previous days, namely pre-2004, the mention of the pool within the Gospel was interpreted as a construct by the author (which fits in with the often repeated claim that the Gospel of John is scantly historical). However, excavations that subsequently discovered the pool have had to throw such metaphorical interpretations out – there really was a pool. From here we see the truth in the mantra that the absence of evidence does not equal evidence of absence.
Dickson applies this method to Jesus and comments that we are lucky to have both independent Christian and non-Christian witnesses to the small Jesus movement of first century
Chapter two is dedicated to ‘How Historians Read the New Testament’ and is concerned with how scholars view the New Testament as a historical source. I wholeheartedly agree with Dicksons emphasis with regard to how scholars view the New Testament documents. Many attacks on the Bible and historicity of Jesus make two generally fatal mistakes. The first is that they set a caveat that the New Testament cannot be used as a historical source. This criteria is simply nonsensical in the eyes of the historian – the New Testament contain 27 texts, by numerous and independent authors. There is no reason to dismiss this as evidence. The next mistake is the claim that supporting the New Testament with the New Testament is circular. Such a claim does not account for the above, namely, that the New Testament contains documents independent ancient witnesses which were often produced with “no knowledge of the other texts that would end up in the volume Christians came to regard as sacred.” (p.24)
Dickson then treats the Gnostic gospels rather fairly as a series of texts that help us understand later Christian diversity but not primarily the historical Jesus. (p.27) He moves to the earlier sources, the Pauline epistles, and notes some of the historical features of Jesus we can know from the texts – although biography was clearly not their purpose. (To be continued...)
On the Bibliography
The extensive selected bibliography of the book was great. However, I do have some problems with it. Namely, as the book is for lay readers, how does one know which of the books lay outside of the mainstream. What comes to mind when going through that list would be The Five Gospels etc which directly undermine Dicksons book with the numerous unqualified appeal to the majority of a minority (i.e. the Jesus Seminar). What books I appreciate in the list are the standards – James D.G. Dunn; E.P. Sanders; Richard Bauckham; John Dominic Crossan; Marcus J. Borg; N.T. Wright, etc. To those I would add the works which aren’t directly historical Jesus but have done the ground work such as Martin Hengel’s work into the canonical gospels, The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Christological issues addressed in The Son of God as well as the slightly more apologetic (yet still scholarly) The Real Jesus of Luke Timothy Johnson.
However, I do also believe the bibliography is missing a few books I would see as essential such as Ben Witherington’s The Jesus Quest. Witherington’s interaction with the number of historical Jesus studies such as those ‘standards’ listed above would be the next step for the individual interested in moving on from Dickson’s little book. A mention of Craig A. Evan’s Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies or a book of that nature seems to be missing from the list. Furthermore, I am not sure as to how Dunn’s 129 page The Evidence for Jesus missed out
So far it seems like what I myself would write on the topic. I will probably finish it tonight and start on a review.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Saturday, July 25, 2009
However, no matter how grand an argument one makes from this - there is always one fact that undermines the entire argument. That is - the dates of Christmas and Easter as celebrated in the Western rite churches today were not the dates that the New Testament makes reference to. For example, December 25th for Christmas is not even believed by those who chose the date to be a correct date for the birth of Jesus. It wasn't even used - as best we know - until AD 336. Quite a number of years after the New Testament Gospels. Furthermore, the Eastern Churches at the time - and the Copts to this day - celebrated Christmas on January 6th.
Regarding the date of Easter, we have a similar situation. Today the Eastern Orthodox Churches (myself included) celebrate Easter on a different date to the Western churches. (That is, the Easter date known in Australia, Great Britain, USA, etc).
Unlike the Western church date (which one can connect to the spring equinox as determined in 325) the Eastern churches pascha celerbations occurr in line with the Jewish traditions. That is, observing it on the 14th of Nisan - or, the first day of Passover.
So, as we can see, the argument is completely flawed at its core.
Friday, July 24, 2009
The rules are simple:
- Find a scholarly book that is not anti-Christian;
- Scroll down to the reviews and click on the 1 star reviews;
- Read the one star reviews and;
- Cue laughter
Get a really well-rounded book instead, May 23, 2006Now, I wonder if this individual has even read the book at all? Surely, he has not read both of them as he is claiming that they are on the same subject. One is about textual critical issues (Ehrman) and the other is about early Christology (Hurtado). Furthermore - Ehrman is now unbiased?
A much better book on this subject is Bart D. Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus : The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why". It has lots of unbiased insight into early Christianity and the myths surrounding it.
Ehrman has left off a book filled with unqualified statements to be abused in so many ways. Ever heard the 'more variants than words in the New Testament argument' like it actually means something?
Then you come across mega-reviewer people (I don't know the real name - those guys who post heaps of short reviews). There is one I often follow who claims to be a doctor (of what, who knows?) . His most recent review calls N.T. Wright "Angry and confused" and his books are merely erroneous and libelous. Who knew?
On the issue of the TF the reviewer tells us that, "Virtually every Josephus scholar agrees this is a later addition by Christians and not original to Josephus." As far as I, and every scholar par Earl Doherty and other Christ Mythicists, Josephus mentioned Jesus twice. There are interpolations/elaborations on the second mention but there was an original text there.
[I will come back to this guy in my next post]
Now, this is probably my favourite review of A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament:
I don't know what book those other reviewers read, but I was put this on the shelf in 5 minutes. Much is written in Greek. I tried keeping up with a Greek Interlinear Bible on the computer, but still couldn't make sense of it. The author assumes you can understand Greek. If you're not a Greek scholar, DON'T BUY THIS BOOK. Major disappointment.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
As noted by James H. Charlesworth on numerous occasions, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has shed a light on the Gospel of John very different to those previously put forward by the German radicals of yeaster year. Namely, the Gospel of John emerged from a thoroughly Jewish context and those ideas that previously forced a later date such as the developed Dualism (as well as the discovery of P52 that set a cap on authorship to very early 2nd century at the latest) were actually erroneous argumentation. He states:
Now, primarily due to the unique ideas preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls and to a refined appreciation of the social conflicts reflected in the Gospel of John and the Johannine epistles, there is a consensus among New Testament experts that John is the gospel most clearly engaged with Judaism…The Gospel of John is perhaps the most Jewish of the canonical gospels. (James H. Charlesworth (1989), John and the Dead Sea Scrolls pp.xiii-xv)Evidently, in light of the the Dead Sea Scroll discoveries, the Gospel of John is heavily influenced by Palestinian Judaism of the Second Temple Period. I agree with such - however, I still have my qualms with Charlesworth's shaky explanation and conclusions regarding the necessity of a direct causal source. For example, regarding the dualism which I will discuss in another post. (The short argument is that he sees a direct connection between John and Qumran; Raymond Brown sees the possibility of a connection, however, I myself see that there need not be a direct connection with Qumran for the main reason that if we search the other Intertestamental literature - including the light-darkness dualism of Genesis - we find an adequate explanation within the Jewish literature of the time. A causal link between John and Qumran is simply not necessary, nor can I see anyone substantiating it without further archaeological evidence.)
I strongly believe that the beginning of the prologue of the Gospel of John should be viewed within its context - and this context clearly depends on the literary tradition of which it finds authoritative. As Richard Bauckham notes,
We do not need to postulate any background to these verses other than Genesis 1 and the tradition of Jewish creation accounts dependent on it that speak of God's Word as his instrument or agent in creation.Let us have a quick look at John 1:1-5 and Genesis 1:1-5 and put the hypothesis to the test.
Genesis 1:1-4 (Septuagint)
Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος. 2 οὗτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν. 3 πάντα διʼ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν. ὃ γέγονεν 4 ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν, καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων· καὶ τὸ φῶς ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ φαίνει, καὶ ἡ σκοτία αὐτὸ οὐ κατέλαβεν. (NA27)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The Word was with God in the beginning. 3 All things came into being through it, and without it not one thing came into being. 4 In it was life, and the life was the light of mankind. 5 And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it. (Own translation)
Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν. 2 ἡ δὲ γῆ ἦν ἀόρατος καὶ ἀκατασκεύαστος, καὶ σκότος ἐπάνω τῆς ἀβύσσου, καὶ πνεῦμα θεοῦ ἐπεφέρετο ἐπάνω τοῦ ὕδατος. 3 καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεός Γενηθήτω φῶς. καὶ ἐγένετο φῶς. 4 καὶ εἶδεν ὁ θεὸς τὸ φῶς ὅτι καλόν. καὶ διεχώρισεν ὁ θεὸς ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ φωτὸς καὶ ἀνὰ μέσον τοῦ σκότους. (Septuaginta : With morphology. Stuttgart : Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1996, c1979, S. Ge 1:1-5)
In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth. 2 But the earth was unsightly and unfurnished, and darkness was over the deep, and the Spirit of God moved over the water. 3 And God said, Let there be light, and there was light. 4 And God saw the light that it was good, and God divided between the light and the darkness. (Brenton's Translation of the Septuagint - by this time I am too lazy to even bother translating)
The first and most obvious parallel is the well known opening phrase, "In the beginning" or, in the Greek of the LXX and NT, "en arche". Therefore, the Word (which is identified as Jesus in 1:14) is placed at the same level of pre-existence as the God of the Old Testament, that is, in the beginning. This clear high Christology is taken further - in drawing on the Jewish view in the Second Temple Period that YHWH was the sole Creator God the Word plays a role in creation itself.
However - to what extent does the Word play a role in creation. Must one read it in light of the works of Philo or is there something else to it. Namely,
When John uses the term "word" in the opening verses of his prologue, he means simply this: the divine Word that all Jews, on the basis of Genesis, understood to have been active in the creation of all things. (Monotheism and Christology in the Gospel of John, Richard Bauckham)I find this argument plausible. If we are to emphasise the understanding of YHWH as sole creator we must examine the manner by which creation came about. As testified to in Genesis, which one can clearly see to be the prototype for the prologue, we should search there for the answer.
In Genesis we see that attribute of the eternal creator God that plays a role in creation are His words. Genesis 1:3 begins, "And God said" ("kai eipon ho theos") - God's logio were the eternal attribute of God responsible, the eternal attribute of God that was and is Jesus. Evidently, Jesus was divine in the most thoroughly monotheistic sense - he was the eternal Word of the creator God, and to borrow from 1 Cor. 8:6, "through whom all things came and through whom we live."
Anyway, I guess this is the end of my pointless ramblings. It really turned into nothing in the end!
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Studies of recent years have shed much light on the issue of Jewish diversity on the Second Temple context - and this diversity was tolerated by others. (Well, some did so differently - e.g. the exclusive nature of the sectarians at Qumran).
Dare I postulate that, to borrow the words of Pliny, they revered Jesus and sung "to Christ as if to a god."
What else would have got a young Pharisees knickers in such a knot?
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Throughout her CV, although only possessing an undergraduate degree, she makes reference to her flashing credentials (such as taking part in highly experimental education) as well as "postgraduate studies". She eventually admits to her lacking credentials stating, "As concerns my credentials and continuing education, I would like to consider my books Suns of God and Christ in Egypt in particular a PhD thesis in the subjects of comparative religion and astrotheology."
Her is a challenge - read her books and tell me they are worth an undergraduate essay let alone a PhD thesis. She creates evidence as she sees fit in order to feed her conspiracy theory - namely, that everything is a carbon copy of everything else. Furthermore, if you are playing a serious link between the Son of the Son of God with the English word sun - we know you have no idea what you are talking about.
But lets examine some random chapters of hers, shall we.
She has a chapter in Suns of God titled 'The "Historical" Jesus?'
When scrutinized, the Pauline epistles do not reveal any historical Jesus; nor do they demonstrate any knowledge of the existence of the four canonical gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
When scrutinised, we actually do find a historical Jesus behind the Pauline Epistles. This sort of argumentation, as employed by other non-existent theorists such as Earl Doherty, is simply deceptive at best. I have earlier examined Doherty's argument that the Pauline epistles make no allusion to a historical Jesus - Reviewing the Jesus Puzzle: A Conspiracy of a Conspiracy of Silence.
Now we come to the next point of the very first sentence - namely, that the Pauline Epistles demonstrage no knowledge of the 'existence of the four canonical gospels.' I wonder, is this a very pathetic strawman or does Archaya S really have no idea when the four gospels were composed?
In her second sentence she goes on to say that the Gospels are not seen as history - a claim that the vast majority of New Testament scholars over the past 50 years would wholeheartedly disagree with.
She then moves on to the concept of textual variants. One must ask, is she simply ignorant of textual criticism or is she employing deceptiive creativity. She presents the variants to mean that one knows not what the Bible says unjustifiably concluding, "so much for "God's infallible Word" and his "inspired scribes.""
Dare I ask how the existence of textual variants preclude "inspired scribes" and inspired autographs - or is it that our friend has no idea what these are?
Onto the issue of dating the gospels she makes some more obvious blunders. She assigns a date to the gospels of the end of the 2nd century on the basis of - well, I am not sure. She states that we have no evidence for their existence until then. I guess one could make that argument if we pretend that we do not have Papyrus 52 (an exert of John from the first quarter of the second century) or quotations and references in the early church fathers. (See Metzger's summary on the use of the gospels by the early church fathers in The Canon of the New Testament.)
Archaya makes an interesting statement in claiming that today's dates have been pushed back over the past 150 years. However, as anyone who has observed the dating of the Gospel of John would know the consensus of critical scholarship has actually pushed for an earlier date for the Gospels. The discovery of P52 mentioned above as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls which have shed light on issues such as dualism and messianic expectations have fit John into the Jewish context - most likely with a heavy Palestinian influence.
The chapter ends with an extended discourse on redefining the use of Gospel and the church fathers reference to such to fit her thesis. Such is done by drawing soley on public domain anti-Christian polemic pseudo-scholarship which in the end tells us nothing about the historical Jesus as the title suggests.
And she intends such work to be at the level of a PhD?
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
To all those interested in solid New Testament scholarship I recommend a few books by Professor Hengel:
- The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ : an investigation of the collection and origin of the Canonical Gospels
- Son of God : the origin of Christology and the history of Jewish-Hellenistic religion
- Atonement : a study of the origins of the doctrine in the New Testament
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Friday, July 3, 2009
Thursday, July 2, 2009
I guess the best way for me to express my view on scripture and inspiration - or at least my understanding of how we historically came to an understanding of scripture and inspiration - will be painted through me examining what I believe were the core questions of your earlier posts.I could be entirely wrong.
(1) Why wasn't it until the 2nd and 3rd generation of Christians that they became to be revered as scripture and on par with the OT?
(2) "Why not just leave them as authoritative – trusted histories written by Godly men for the instruction of the church?"
(3) Did Paul think he was writing scripture?
Some assumptions we have to recognise behind these questions is that we are looking back on scripture, inspiration and canon from our own context. Namely, post-reformation, heavily influenced by the presuppositions of a closed canon and concepts of sola scriptura.
From this assumption we view the issue of inspiration with little regard to the historical view. To me it seems like one edging towards the Golden Tablets of the Book of Mormon. We simply see the books of the Bible as being inspired - why? The Bible is inspired. This is a circular view and not what I see the historical approach as at all.
Regarding question (3), I think we have to consider what scripture is in the context and what Paul believed about his own message.
Within the context - scripture, although not a free-for-all, was not arbitrarily closed. God's old covenant (mind the Christian anachronism) with His people as embodied within the Old Testament was a real-time event. As a prophet prophesied and such texts were produced under the inspiration of prophesy, they were inspired. They did not have to wait for someone to see them as inspired at a later arbitrary date. Furthermore, we know that Jewish communities would consider intertestamental apocryphal texts as inspired even though its composition was near contemporaneous. What this understanding does is takes away the assumption that the development of scripture need be a long process - that is, our lense as seeing the recognition as something that could only have happened a long time ago.
From the New Testament we can derive two features. Firstly, Paul believed he was an inspired apostle (e.g. Gal 1:1) and that his salvation message of the gospel which he taught was inspired, "I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ." (Gal 1:12). Secondly, Paul believed his inspired words and revelation should be shared - he did this through his preaching and his epistles (which he subsequently asked to be shared e.g. Col 4:16, "And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea").
With Paul's self understanding as expressed in his own letters it could very well be argued that the texts met the requirements of scripture. The teachings were inspired and authoritative. Furthermore, one need not ask the question as to whether Paul saw himself adding to the Old Testament as such a thing did not exist until rabbinic Judaism eventually closed the canon. A closing of the canon that seems to fit in well with new covenant of Christ, might I add.
Doing the third point first probably set some ground rules for the next questions.
Anyway, to jump into the first question (1) it has something to do with the context and what was happening within the early Christian communities in the 60s-80s. The necessity of scripture is related to the fact that the inspired, reliable and authoritative members of the communities such as the eyewitness were dying out. (Note, Papias made a point of preferring oral eyewitness testimony to the written texts whilst it was available.) In reaction, these eyewitnesses and ministers of the word (Luke 1:1-4) were used by the evangelists in their eyewitness communities to construct the gospels. Therefore, we had more texts produced that were most likely seen as inspired, including eyewitness testimony and tradition that were composed in the time of living memory. These texts were authoritative - firstly within their own community, and then in the wider community as one of the earliest things we know on Christian canon is that the authority of the four-fold gospel tradition was early.
I guess now we return to the status of these texts as Scripture in comparison to the OT. As stated earlier, the OT canon was not officially closed or as rigid as we see it today in Western contemporary circles. (Just a quick note that some Orthodox churches have Bibles with an appendix of non-canonical yet acceptable reading - something similar to the 2nd/3rd century Syrian churches view of the Gospel of Peter or other communities views of the Shepherd of Hermas such as attached to Codex Sinaiticus.) By virtue of the texts being by inspired persons, within eyewitness and living memory as well as being regionally authoritative in orthodox circles, they were considered scripture.
I think we rely too much on the first century silence on canon and authoritative scripture in the first and early second. However, the frequency and distribution of the majority of the NT texts throughout the churches - Western, Eastern and Alexandrian - by the mid second century (probably par some of the Pastorals and 2 Peter in the Western churches) probably dwarf this silence with evidence that they were widely accepted and authoritative before such recognition by the church fathers.
Following on, I guess the second point (2) would answer itself. Inspiration was a key feature of the text even before it was put to papyri. They were trusted histories written by inspired Godly men, often including the inspired words of God incarnate himself.
I hope this wading through the issue paints a picture of my incomplete view of inspiration and authority. It probably represents a historical camp - but which one I am not sure of.