Reflections on “Nomadic Text” (Part I)

2370005851562As someone planning a dissertation on “reception history” (albeit it somewhat differently defined and undertaken than Breed), Brennan Breed’s concept of reception history and his application in Nomadic Text offer several potentially fruitful routes forward.

Foremost, Breed offers numerous opportunities for raised awareness of the issues surrounding the field of reception history. First, he rightly highlights the need for a careful definition of reception history and argues for his own take on the application of that definition to biblical studies—“everything is both its own original and own reception” (206). Second, Breed brings his readers into conversation with the semiotic debates and concerns with how to do biblical studies which are informing the development of reception history. His discussions of text, context, and interpretation, even when not directly applicable to my own thought or projects, nonetheless shed light on the flavor and limitations of the field as it is currently constituted. Third, this text helpfully raises awareness of borderlines and their importance in transmission and reception history. For a field which can often unconsciously reify borders and then proceed as if inquiry cannot transcend those limitations, Breed’s engagement with liminality and identifying and traversing borderlines provides a much needed paradigm correction. Finally, the engagement with Hebrew Bible-centered biblical studies provides a much needed expansion of horizons and methodology. For this reader, at least, Breed’s presentation stands as a stark reminder that other (even closely related) fields bring different concerns and practical realities to the table, factors which may fruitfully be brought to inform conversations within our own studies. In all of these ways, Breed rightly raises awareness about the field of reception history in such a way as to better inform the operations of biblical studies and the history of Christianity. Continue reading

Exodus from Bondage?

lukeResponse to “Exodus from Bondage: Luke 9:31 and Acts 12:1-24” by Susan Garrett

In her article “Exodus from Bondage: Luke 9:31 and Acts 12:1-24,” Susan Garrett argues that Luke employed a soteriology of exodus, wherein Jesus (and to a lesser extent, through thematic recapitulation, Peter) stood as true Israel and freed his people from bondage to Satan. Central for this paper is the collective memory of Israel, which Garrett suggests regularly drew upon the Exodus paradigm as a source of historical renewal for Israel. Picking up on these themes, Luke cast Jesus’s journey to Jerusalem as the faithful journey of Moses to the Promised Land. Culminating in his passion and resurrection, Jesus leads the better exodus and leads the people of Israel from bondage to Satan. Whereas ancient Israel sought to inherit the land, Luke indicates that only through the formation of the Christian community in Jerusalem—the Christ-follower inheritance of the land—may God’s promise to Abraham truly be fulfilled. Continue reading

Some Thoughts on Bible Reading

Open BibleSome thoughts on Bible reading for your morning:

1. Never read a Bible verse. Always read at least a paragraph, preferably more. Best is reading a whole book (more on that below). You can make any one verse mean any number of things, but considering the larger context of passage places that verse within a more meaningful narrative, making it easier to understand what the verse is saying. So always read verses within their larger narrative context.

2. Keep a couple of different versions on-hand. Having two or three different Bibles around serves as a reminder that English Bibles are translations and that, whatever you may believe about inerrancy and inspiration, translations are neither. Having multiple versions around also enables you to draw upon different renderings of a passage when you try to understand what’s being said. Not all translations are created equal, of course, and which translations you choose will vary based on your preferences and Bible knowledge. But keep a couple different versions around. Continue reading

The Divine Quest, East and West (Part II)

This post continues a series of reflections on Jay Ford’s The Divine Quest, East and West.

As part of The Divine Quest, East and West’s turn toward the East in Acts 4 and 5, this reflection deals with the Classical and Colonial periods of Hindu theology. In reviewing the schools of classical Hindu theology, Ford usefully highlights the central theme found in each major school: the attempt to reconcile the one with the many, demonstrating the importance that conceptions of the ultimate Brahman played in the development of the Hindu traditions (125). Effectively, only two major options existed: the Brahman was either impersonal and absolute or personal and theistic (128). The perspectives of Shankara (hierarchical monism) and Ramanuja (quasi-dualistic theism) mirror our earlier interaction with Taylor, again underscoring the similar ways in which even vastly different traditions conceive of the ultimate. I do not wish to argue that the Hindu traditions (or all other major religious perspectives) remains trapped within the dichotomy of monism and dualism, only to note that classical Hinduism appears to revisit some of the same concerns with which the monotheistic traditions have wrestled. Continue reading

Women in the Apostolic Fathers: Context

This post is part of an ongoing series examining Women in the Apostolic Fathers.

Portrait of a Young Woman

“Portrait of a Young Woman”

In order to properly understand conceptions of women in the Apostolic Fathers, one must consider not only the writings themselves but also the general context of the first and second centuries, including Greco-Roman and earlier Christian evidence.[1] Of course, this attempt at contextualization becomes immediately problematized by the fact that, there was no “typical woman” or single female perspective in the ancient world, for a cacophony of social, political, economic, and religious factors defies the painting of a unified picture or situation of women.[2] Speaking generally, however, some shards of evidence may be pieced together. Continue reading

The Day That Jesus Died

When students are first introduced to the historical, as opposed to a devotional, study of the Bible, one of the first things they are forced to grapple with is that the biblical text, whether Old Testament or New Testament, is chock full of discrepancies, many of them irreconcilable…. In some cases seemingly trivial points of difference can actually have an enormous significance for the interpretation of a book or the reconstruction of the history of ancient Israel or the life of the historical Jesus.”—Bart D. Ehrman1

Bart D. Ehrman

As this statement from contemporary (and popular) New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman indicates, there those who study Christianity—its scriptures and history—who argue that the canonical gospels2 do not present a historically accurate account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Around Easter every year, scholars and journalists of this perspective often pen pieces on the ”Why the Resurrection Story is a Myth” or ”Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?” In more nuanced versions of these discussions, the credibility of early Christian accounts of Christ’s passion and resurrection is called into question, even on facts as seemingly mundane as the day on which Jesus was crucified.3 Such is the position of Ehrman, who argues that the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and Gospel of John portray Jesus as being killed on two different days, thus revealing their historical inaccuracy and untruthfulness.4 As is my Good Friday custom, in this post I examine this claim and explain why the canonical gospels indicate that Jesus died on the same day: Good Friday. Continue reading

Pheobe the Deacon

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting upon Women and Gender in Early Christianity.

Pheobe the διάκονος: Reflections on a Program for Assessing Deaconesses in EC

Saint Pheobe

Saint Pheobe

In the article “Deacons, Deaconesses, and Denominational Discussions,”[1] Clarence Agan III tackles the often controversial topic of NT women’s service is diaconal roles, employing Paul’s reference to Pheobe as a διάκονος as a test case. Agan begins this article with some important caveats, namely that a) discussions of women in the early Church must take a holistic approach rather than specifically-targeted rhetorical tactics, b) specific lexical factors surrounding διάκονος must be thoroughly investigated in their particular contexts, and c) a theological reading of prescriptions in the early Church should form only part (though an integral part) of contemporary denominational and theological reflections on women, gender, and church office. Using this approach, Agan argues that Pheobe’s title of διάκονος in Romans 16:1 should be understood as an indicatory of her emissary or representative status. Continue reading

Women in the Greco-Roman Context

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting upon Women and Gender in Early Christianity.

Ross S. Kraemer

Ross S. Kraemer

One particular problem for establishing an adequate understanding of the Greco-Roman world constitutes the paucity of source materials and then, of course, the difficulties of interpreting that source material. This is especially true with regard to source material specifically pertaining to women, which is less plentiful even than general evidence. Cultic practices, however, offer one avenue into better understanding the social space of women in the Greco-Roman context, or at least so argues Ross S. Kraemer in her article “Ecstasy and Possession: The Attraction of Women to the Cult of Dionysus” (The Harvard Theological Review 72, 1/2 [1979]: 55-80.). In the summary and response below, I reflect on Ross Kraemer’s argument concerning the “social space” afforded women by the Dionysiac cult. Continue reading

Book Review: NLT Illustrated Study Bible

9781496402035The means by which one encounters the Scriptures are formative and important. That is to say, the Bible that you use—read, study with, take to Church, consult when times are tough—helps shape who you are as a Christian. Choosing the right Bible(s), then, can be a very important decision. But so many of the Bibles available today seem bland or boring, especially when compared to the increasingly technological and visual culture of the 21st century. Not so Tyndale House’s latest edition of the New Living Translation, the NLT Illustrated Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015). Continue reading

Book Review: The Sacred Economy of Ancient Israel

Sacred Economy of Ancient Israel (Boer)In The Sacred Economy of Ancient Israel, Roland Boer offers an economic study intended to bring contemporary social science into dialogue with the world of Ancient Israel. Focusing on the allocation and extraction economic patterns in ancient Israel and the historic interplay between these institutional systems, Boer argues that a Marxist analysis of the economic and social world of ancient Israel reveals a sacred complexity of economic institutions and activities which existed in tension with one another. As correlative arguments, Boer pushes back against postclassical assumptions of a proto-market economy in ancient Israel, advocates for a broader application of social scientific research to biblical studies, argues for an integrated understanding of the sacred and secular in Israel, and in contrast to numerous contemporary studies contends that a complexity of institutions formed the basis of ancient Israel’s economy. Central to this study are the five building blocks of ancient Israel’s religiously regulated sacred economy—subsistence survival, kinship households, patronage, estates, and tribute exchanges—and the three regimes in which these foundational institutions developed—systems of subsistence, palatine, and booty. Continue reading