Category Archives: Scholarship

Review of @bakeracademic’s “Atonement, Law, and Justice: The Cross in Historical and Cultural Contexts”

Adonis Vidu has no need to argue in his work, Atonement, Law, and Justice: The Cross in Historical and Cultural Contexts, which atonement model is the most accurate. Rather, his purpose is to trace a path of model development next to evolving systems of justice, from the ancient world to the modern. Vidu matter of factly states, “the history of atonement thinking could be read as an ongoing conversation with the history of thinking about justice and the law.” (xiv) His book does not simply fill a gap, but may in fact help us understand atonement modeling as a contextual paradigm, perhaps loosening our tight grip on particular expressions.

Atonement, Law, and Justice has 6 chapters, with the first 4 examining the development of atonement and justice since before the Christian-era. Chapter 5 examines the atonement via various modern lens with the final chapter acting the the author’s view. Chapter 1 examines the development of justice and law in Patristic thought, although Vidu is smart in bringing in Homer, Plato, and other familiar pre-Christian influencers first. Nothing develops in a vacuum, not even Christian theology. As such, we encounter philosophy, before we are led to Augustinian theology (which is based on philosophy!). To be quite clear, our usual notions of the atonement as retributive justice are called into question — as well as they should,  if we are to be consistent with the cognitive environment of the New Testament writers. For the ancients, justice is order, but not necessarily equity. Thus, the gods were unrestrained in achieving that order, with little or no expectation between the deities and humans. Law was second, if not third. For the modern (American) reader, the notion of an executive pardon (refusing to punish a law-breaker) may be the best image here. It wasn’t until the Romans borrowed Stoicism that justice existed outside of social order, becoming an internal virtue.

atonement
Say what?

This move from justice-as-order to justice-as-equity fed directly into early Christian thought. After all, once justice becomes a virtue, then one can assign it to God. This then separates justice from non-justice, good from evil, and law from disorder, leading us into the rollercoaster of atonement models and justification theology. Where once the divine could contain deceit, evil, etc… the doctrine of divine simplicity started to take hold, giving way to a higher refrain of justice only complete in God. Because of this, we move from the ransom theories to a satisfaction model. Before I go too far into summarizing this chapter, allow me to simply suggest that this chapter is a hallmark in not only the study of Augustinian theology, but in early Christendom. In the end, Augustine’s move towards anchoring the sacrifice of Christ to a divine justice sets the stage for medieval atonement models.

Is God tied to or bound by law? That seems to be the discussion between Anselm and Abelard in the late medieval ages. More than that, however, is the shift (Vidu calls it a revolution) from law-as-specific to context, to a universal notion of law and legal remedies. Because of this universality in viewpoint, Anselm is able to offer his satisfaction theory, which precludes free grace. In other words, a wrong required a penalty. Abelard, on the other hand, moves away from original sin, but into a realm of what is desirable. Vidu shows that these two men and the third, Aquinas, are very much products of their time. Here especially, Vidu slows down and gives us a great depth of understanding as to how changing notions of law, justice, and universality shape the various atonement models during this time. Likewise, we are introduced to John Duns Scotus (p79 — 87) and left to wonder if the notion of atonement, as developed as it was by European developments in law and justice, did not contribute to the development of our Western society, ending with the separation of Church and State. I suspect that this portion of Vidu’s thesis is at least a remarkably important read in understanding Western Christianity, Christian civilization, and how our doctrines have shaped our current political realities. I cannot stress this enough — I desire more from Vidu on this subject, and would have sacrifice more time and pages to read more from our author on Don Scotus.

We are now ready to be reformed, which is the subject of chapter 3. Here, Vidu takes us through Luther and Calvin, who existed in Duns Scotus’ now secular shadow — where law was autonomous. If anyone has read anything from the New Perspective on Paul theologians (E.P. Sanders, James Dunn, or N.T. Wright), you will become immediately familiar with Vidu’s take here. Because the notion of the Law and what authority it has has been transformed in European society of the time, the same thing shapes Protestant theology. Luther and Calvin cannot be divorced from their time, but like several others before them, are shaped by it.

It is here that I question if the usual modern refrain of the Church shaping the World or the World shaping the Church. While Vidu’s book does not tackle this issue, I cannot help but see that when we had no Christendom, or no firmly established Christendom, Christians and their doctrine shaped the world. After a millenia of Christendom, the world shaped us. The one real stand-out during this time is Duns Scotus. While Aquinas gave to the Church Universal Natural Law as tied to Divine Law, Duns Scotus broke that a part, preparing a way not only for the separation of Church and State, but so too the separation of the Body of Christ in the West. 

Up until recently, legality and morality were thought to be the same. In our current world, we know better. Which is, perhaps, why so many Christians challenge the very idea of atonement. Secular law is decided by the State whereas, for the most part, moral law is still divine (or at least above the State). Names like Kant and Schleiermacher come to the forefront. Ritschl as well. And each, leading the way in the liberal Protestant tradition and thought, removes the exchange in atonement, making it subjective (according to Vidu). This is the sum of chapter 4.

Chapter 5 turns to post-modern thought, tackling the changing of terms and ideas from historic Christian lexicons to psychologist-influenced trends. His first engagement with a modern theology is with Andrew Sung Park, a seminary professor of mine at United Theological Seminary. Park incorporates Han into the equation, something Vidu takes to task. I should not like to decide who is correct here. From here, Vidu tackles feminist and postcolonial views on sin and atonement. Theologians and thought leaders such as  Foucault, Derrida, and Girard are given special treatment by Vidu. He treats each one well, giving them their voice — and then attempts to demolish their arguments. It is up to the readers to decide if he succeeds. Their arguments are met from the positive angle in chapter 6, where Vidu begins to shape his view on atonement, law, and justice.

There are few deficits in Vidu’s work. He does not take into account Jewish thoughts on justice and law. I would like to have seen how the rabbis fit into these paradigms. Further, there are no counters to the hegemonic West. Augustine is left without Cassian and Aquinas has no Gregory Palamas. I realize he is not writing an encyclopedia or multi-volume set; however, in getting into the cultural contexts, which themselves stand as comparisons one to another, a bit of the East should have been mentioned.

There are two important takeaways for me, personally. One, it shows a somewhat well-ordered path in developing the penal substitutionary atonement model. Note, never once does he argue for this view as the only view. This is interesting because of the development of other doctrines. Secondly, I think it shows the sad state of liberal Protestantism. Where we once had great thinkers, digesting 1900 years of theological and philosophical thought, we are now left with loud-mouth bloggers with little or no intellectual training. What thinkers we do have are often times shredded in engagements, retreating to catch-phrases like oppression, privilege, and bully.

I started this book with a distaste in my mouth. I do not believe in penal substitutionary atonement — although the atonement takes center stage in my theology. However, while I am not convinced that PSA is correct, I am convinced Vidu has provided the Church a rather important book in discerning the doctrine of atonement and allowing that it has developed. Also, I think he has called us to be mindful of our context and the way we approach issues of Christian thought. Finally, especially in chapter 5, Vidu gives us reason to suspect the liberal Protestant tradition along with post-modern thought may in fact be bankrupt when it comes to their stances on the atonement. It is expertly researched, meticulously crafted, and properly presented.

the portions in italics do not appear on Amazon. 

Prop 8 – @ivpacademic’s “Lost World of Adam and Eve”

On facebook, I stated my concern regarding Walton’s stance on the historical Adam and Eve. I am troubled he makes these statements without support, whereas nearly every other statement he makes is supported by well-reasoned logic. There is a fallacious danger in not reading ahead as one does “read throughs,” so I have at least skipped ahead to see if Walton does give his reasons. He does, in Proposition 11. Yet, I am on Proposition 8, with only the point-of-fact statements “Adam was a real person” made in the midst of “don’t take anything else as ‘literal’.”1 He tries to separate when Genesis 2–3 speaks about a historical figure and when it speaks about an archetypal representative; however, the lines are not clear enough in my mind. If Adam is representative of humanity (or Israel as a King would be) in 8 out of 10 cases, then why are the other two revealing he is a real person? Could it be a stylistic choice or an interpolation?

Wo ist Wellhausen!?

Saint Augustine of Hippo, a seminal thinker on...
Saint Augustine of Hippo, a seminal thinker on the concept of just war (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Indeed, this troubling statement is surrounding by an acutely canonical awareness of “formed” (as well as “rib” and “dust”) and how it plays into the story. While Walton does not mention it, his own parsing of the Hebrew reveals a Platonic caveat of soulmates (i.e., Symposium) I did not realize was there. Yet, through all of this, we are still told by the author of his belief in a historical Adam. Or perhaps, an assumption. If the forming of the two are archetypal and not related to material origins but rather symbolic of human relationships, then why are we still discussing Adam as if he is a historical person? Likewise, the author goes to great lengths to bring in St. Paul and his use of Adam in Romans and 1 Corinthians. This latter issue I find exciting and troubling.

Exciting because of the use of the entire Christian canon to work out theology. But, likewise it is troubling because if I am examining the ancient literature for what it is, I want to examine it devoid of reception during the apocalyptic discontinuity. Admittedly, however, I cannot focus too much on the troubling (to me) aspect because if Walton is doing what he did in Lost World of Genesis One, then he needs to tackle the usual Protestant Christian teaching regarding Original Sin and the Fall (even if one is because St. Augustine did not read Greek all that well).

There is a lot in this singular proposition, some of which I will detail in a follow-up post. As usual, Walton is pushing the boundaries, not of the Text itself, but of our theological facets.

  1. Joel’s paraphrase.

Fitting: 2 Esdras on the Lion’s Justice to the Eagle #advent14ccumwv

2 Esdras lion of the tribe of judah justice

I think this may just one of the most fitting quotes I’ve read in a long time.

Did John Wesley use the “Apocrypha?” Yes. Yes, he did. #umc

According to James Charlesworth (who used John Vicker’s data) he did.

john wesley apocrypha use deuterocanon

This is taken from James Charlesworth paper for the Charles Wesley society (PDF). He concludes that both Wesleys, while some differences of use, still used and cherished the hidden books. He concludes by saying,

For John Wesley the most revered apocryphal document may have been the Wisdom of Solomon, followed by Sirach. The Wisdom of Solomon and the Fourth Book of Ezra seem to be the most attractive apocryphal books to Charles Wesley.

I note that John Wesley’s Articles of Religion, which was geared to the American Methodists (1784), says,

In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical books of the Old and New Testament of whose authority was never any doubt in the church. The names of the canonical books are:

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, The First Book of Samuel, The Second Book of Samuel, The First Book of Kings, The Second Book of Kings, The First Book of Chronicles, The Second Book of Chronicles, The Book of Ezra, The Book of Nehemiah, The Book of Esther, The Book of Job, The Psalms, The Proverbs, Ecclesiastes or the Preacher, Cantica or Songs of Solomon, Four Prophets the Greater, Twelve Prophets the Less.

All the books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive and account canonical.

The 39 Articles of Religion (Anglican) allows for the “apocrypha” but sets them up only to be read, not used for doctrine.

I note Rev. Martin’s suggestion for expanding our current doctrinal standards in regards to this particular article.

We could restore the part of the Anglican article that John Wesley removed before sending his abridged Articles of Religion to the new Methodist Episcopal Church in America. This means naming the additional books that are discussed in the 1971 one-volume commentary and declaring them, as the ancient biblical scholar Jerome did, to be worthy of reading “for example of life and instruction of manners” but not “to establish any doctrine.” Such a step would put us back in basic harmony with not only Jerome but also with the great reformer Martin Luther and with Anglican churches today, including the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. This action would be a limited move, and the additional books would clearly have a second-class status.

Or, we could shorten Article V to its first sentence, leaving us with a general statement about the Bible similar to that of the Confession: “The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man [sic] that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” Such a broad affirmation would allow us, in our understanding of the extent of the Bible, to come much closer to agreement with Augustine, with the majority view of the Church before the Reformation and with the great majority of Christians in the world today.

Thoughts?

Mark 13 — Apocalypse Now, Twice

I had hoped to invest some time in exploring this subject, either for a chapter or a paper, but right now I am swamped. I was recently reminded of this, first in reading this book and second via an email. So, I wanted to take a quick second and sketch out an idea.

I think Mark 13 is something of a chaotic chiastic passage. By that, I mean Mark does not using a simple pattern like A B B C B B A, but rather, has a focal point from and to which all things flow, even if the pattern is “messed up.” It is the cosmic battle between the Abomination of Desolation and the Son of Man. Everything leads to that and from that. It is the center point of this chapter and is the historical event of the destruction of the Temple.

The cosmic battle is the counterpoint, or the mimetic refraction.

Mark 13, concurrent view
click the pic and it’ll open into a larger image. This is Mark 13 in the NASB

Further points of consideration:

  • Mark 13.19: “those days” – points both to the future (from Jesus’s standpoint) and to the days mentioned in 13.7–9, 12–13.
  • 13.5-6 is explained further in 13.21–22.
  • 13.18 founds a counter in 13.28.
  • The abomination of desolation is earthly, looking down but finds the opposite in the Son of Man descending whereby we are told to look up.

In the Mail from @ivpacademic, “A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir”

This is going to be awesome. Oden is one of the premier Wesleyan intellectuals and theologians today. I believe his work on paleo-orthodoxy and the confessions is essential in moving the UMC forward.

How did one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated liberals have such a dramatic change of heart? After growing up in the heart of rural Methodism in Oklahoma, Thomas Oden found Marx, Nietzsche and Freud storming into his imagination. He joined the post-World War II pacifist movement and became enamored with every aspect of the 1950s’ ecumenical Student Christian Movement. Ten years before America’s entry into the Vietnam war he admired Ho Chi Min as an agrarian patriot. For Oden, every turn was a left turn. At Yale he earned his PhD under H. Richard Niebuhr and later met with some of the most formidable minds of the era—enjoying conversations with Gadamer, Bultmann and Pannenberg as well as a lengthy discussion with Karl Barth at a makeshift office in his hospital room. While traveling with his family through Turkey, Syria and Israel, he attended Vatican II as an observer and got his first taste of ancient Christianity. And slowly, he stopped making left turns. Oden’s enthusiasms for pacifism, ecumenism and the interface between theology and psychotherapy were ambushed by varied shapes of reality. Yet it was a challenge from a Jewish scholar, his friend and mentor Will Herberg, that precipitated his most dramatic turn—back to the great minds of ancient Christianity. Later a meeting with then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Benedict XVI) planted the seeds for what became Oden’s highly influential Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. This fascinating memoir walks us through not only his personal history but some of the most memorable chapters in twentieth-century theology.

SBL 2014 Interviews

SBL 2014 was great and I had the opportunity to interview three scholars for MAP.

Dr. Yael Avrahami is the author of the award-winning book Senses of Scripture: Sensory Perception in the Hebrew Bible. In our discussion, she addresses why the 5 senses alone don’t hold up in the epistemologies of the Hebrew Bible. Yael is also one of the creators of Hendrickson’s new Reader’s Hebrew Bible.

Dr. Bob Bascom is a Hebrew Bible scholar and Bible translator. Bob is a friend who has taught me a lot about life and love. Literally. He’s a cognitive linguist who can tell you about love in the brain and what kind of love it is. And he does here in the interview.

Dr. Chip Hardy has recently completed his PhD at the University of Chicago on the diachronic development of biblical Hebrew prepositions. In our discussion, he lays out the basic principles of grammaticalization theory.

@dageshforte

 

Review of @OUPAcademic’s “Jewish Study Bible, 2nd Edition”

The (now) first Jewish Study Bible (JSB) was a major breakthrough in establishing a critical, yet faithful, study system for the Jewish canon (for Protestants, the Old Testament). It brought to the table both modern research as well as rabbinical sayings, easily competing with other critical study bibles not only for attention but for depth and clarity. It has been my go-to bible for much of my study in the Jewish Scriptures. Not bad for an “experiment” (as the editors call the first edition) and a winner of the National Jewish Book Award (2004). With the second edition (again edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler), what was good before is now great. I simply have no other words to describe it.

The barebones of the JSB has remained the same. The Jewish Publication Society (JPS) 1985 translation has remained the same. The introductions to the books of bible are virtually unchanged, but the notes have been revised. According to the second edition’s preface, “over one-third” is new. This means we have updated scholarship, new voices, and more importantly in this last category, new voices that include women and Israeli scholars. In the first edition, some essays are simply revised essays from the New Oxford Annotated Bible, but in this one, the editors sought completely new essays on the same topics while asking for revisions of previous ones. Likewise, new essays are added — such as the additions of  “Reading Biblical Narrative” and “Reading Biblical Law” to the stand alone essay of “Reading Biblical Poetry.”

One new essay of note is “Gender in the Bible”(2177–84) by Marc Zvi Brettler. Brettler is a co-editor of the volume, the Dora Golding Professor at Brandeis University, and the author of numerous scholarly works examining the Jewish Scriptures (including serving as co-editor on Amy Jill Levine’s The Jewish Annotated New Testament, also by Oxford). He notes the difference between “gender” (“enacted”) and “sex” (“biological”). No doubt this differentiation will concern some, but Brettler is able to show easily why it needs to be. Even a woman can share the (en)action of a man (masculinity) — and the bible’s idea of masculinity often changes based on perspective. In once sense, masculine means warrior while in another time, masculine meant a devoted student. “The diversity of models should not be surprising, since the Bible is a complex work with multiple perspectives on many issues.”

Jews praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur. (...
Jews praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur. (1878 painting by Maurycy Gottlieb) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When it comes to specific roles, Brettler breaks down the language to show that while ancient Israel and Judaism was indeed male-centric, it was not exactly patriarchal. Nor was it homogenous. Women did have specific roles, but in some portions of Scripture, women shared in roles usually thought to be the sole domain of men (for instance, Brettler points out the Nazarites and prophets). This doesn’t mean Brettler is a wild-eyed liberal, nor given to exaggeration of Scripture. His attention to the verse rather than later culturally influenced readings is made readily apparent when he explores the masculinity of God. He does, in all fairness, give time to scholars who disagree with him, but in the end maintains the explicitness of the bible. “Gender is central to one’s identity and should be immediately evident. Males should act and look like males, and females should act and look like females, and both genders should worship a masculine God” (2184). This section in particular is prefaced with a warning that “all religions…change over time” (2182). We are not told what to think, only what the facts are in determining how we think.

Each essay is based on solid scholarship that remains within the biblical realm. Of note, Jon Levinson’s introduction to Bere’shit (Genesis) ends with, “if J, E, P, and various equally anonymous sources and redactors are its human authors, nothing ensures that God is not its ultimate Author” (10).

My only issue with the bible is the cover. I am going to heavily use this one and I am fearful I will damage the white hardcover. JSB1 had a dust jacket and rough, dark colored cover. JSB2 lacks the dust jacket (thankfully) but has a white glossy cover. The quality of the book, however, is one that will last over time. The pages are thin (use an India marker) but so are most bible pages. (If this bothers you, note there is a kindle version.) JSB2 is set up a lot like JSB1, with the text in the upper portion, next to the spin, surrounded on the left/right and on the bottom by notes. Also included are the JPS 1985 translator’s notes. Throughout the various books, you will find charts and smaller maps to help guide the reader in understanding what is happening in the text and notes. Also include are full color maps like you would find in other bibles. This is a scholar’s bible, but it is a adherent’s book as well.

I have looked, but in vain, for a better study bible for those interested in engaging the Jewish Scriptures as Jewish. Granted, the Christian writings are mentioned, as are the rabbinical sages and both alongside critical scholarship. It does not exclude ecumenical inquiry, but it is the most useful when one is trying to determine how one portion of the text is seen by Jews. This is a great benefit, to be sure, to Christians and Muslims, scholars and theologians, if they are going to interpret the “Old Testament” as a Jewish document first. It is an intellectually stimulating study bible that must be on the desk of every serious student of Scripture.

Did Wilson, et al, unwittingly reveal Morton Smith’s literary sources for the “Secret Gospel of Mark?”

Admittedly, Wilson, et al,’s book “The Lost Gospel” is a midrash of fantasy, but sometimes there are crossovers in fantasy worlds. So is the case, I speculate, between Wilson, et al, and Morton Smith.

In “The Lost Gospel,” Wilson, et al, suggests a literary connection between Joseph and Aseneth and The Secret Gospel of Mark. On the surface, and because that is all this blog post requires, it looks like a solid case. For those of us who study literary sources (mimetic criticism), the closeness is seen easily enough. Of course, we don’t have the original Secret Gospel because it was never presented. It is another “lost gospel,” I guess.

While there are some scholars who accept Smith’s testimony, there are plenty of others who do not. Those who do not suggest Smith created this forgery.

So, where did Morton Smith get his close-to-real story? Perhaps he simply invented it wholesale, the story of Jesus’s esoteric relationship with a naked young man in the Secret Gospel of Mark. But, if he took the time to design the letter in such a way as to remove himself from the picture, then he was careful enough to insure the story was similar to others, right?

I can only speculate — Smith used Joseph and Aseneth, resting on the idea as presented in Wilson, et al, and the fact that we know Smith had at least once delved significantly into Joseph and Aseneth.

Odd….

 

 

This coming week… In (pre-)reviews

IMG_3273.JPG

I intend to highlight and review these books this coming week.

I’ll update this post with links to those reviews, of course.

But, what would you like to see in these reviews?

7 Common Misconceptions About the Hebrew Bible (from @OUPAcademic)

The modern concept of history, judged by whether or not it gets the facts right, is by and large a modern conception. In the past, all peoples told stories set in the past for a variety of reasons, e.g. to entertain, to enlighten, but rarely to recreate what actually happened. Archaeologists have uncovered many cases where the biblical account disagrees with the archaeological account, or with what we might know from other ancient Near Eastern texts.

via 7 Common Misconceptions About the Hebrew Bible | OUPblog.

Next week, I will be posting excerpts and a review of the Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition. Just advance warning — you should get this bible.