Category Archives: Scholarship

Ways of Reading Genesis 1 (CTP class)

The inspired penman in this history [Genesis] … [wrote] for the Jews first and, calculating his narratives for the infant state of the church, describes things by their outward sensible appearances, and leaves us, by further discoveries of the divine light, to be led into the understanding of the mysteries couched under them. – John Wesley, Notes on the Bible, Genesis 2.8

The Creation
The Creation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To my regular throng of readers, this post may not be for you so much as it is for the class I am leading. This CTP class (critical-theological-practical) focuses on Scripture and how to read it on different levels. We have just started, laying some groundwork first on how to read Scripture (for this class). This post, and maybe more like it, will help to facilitate discussion and provide background to the current chapter or passage under discussion.

The next up is the first creation story as found in Genesis 1–2.4a. At no point should you read this entire passage and be done discussing it within an hour. Why? Because not only do have to decide if this is poetry, myth, literature, history, or science (or a mixture of some or all these modern categories) but then you need to talk about how it sets within the Exilic context. Maybe the sun, moon, and stars are really just luminary bodies and not Babylonian gods. Then you have to talk about what it means when God said “it is good.” Then you get to the Genesis 1.26-27 and so on.

But, to start this we have to really look at the ways of reading the first creation story. I have four posts/articles to share from others. I don’t agree with some of the things in them, but that’s not the point of the class. The point of the class is to help people read Scripture contextually, theologically, and for themselves.

These posts don’t have to be read, but I post them here in case you want to read them:

Some other posts, from your’s truly:

If you are in Charleston, WV at 7am on Thursdays, look us up.

Exploring the NA28 in @AccordanceBible

NA28 on Accordance

Behold, the NA28 is in the Original Languages package from Accordance Bible software!

As many of you know, the NA28 is the latest in the line for a critical edition of the Greek New Testament and is often used by scholars in deciding such things as textual variants and “what the original text” looked like.

Because I am working with Galatians and its original intent, I try to spend time in the Greek, rather than the usual translations. It reminds me that a translation is itself not the text, but simply a succinct commentary on the original text. However, as I am not a Greek scholar, I still need help from time to time in reading the Greek text. Accordance provides a real easy way to do this.

As I have noted before, my Mac runs Accordance like a dream. Indeed, Accordance beats nearly every program I have in operation speed, agility, and resource management. Those are big words for “It fits like a glove” with Mac. When I am reading GrGalatians, the words pop up immediately, without any lag time. Immediately below are pictures from my Macbook, followed by pictures from the iPad.

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 9.40.52 AM
I hope my NA28 and behold, Matthew.
Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 9.41.28 AM
NA28, Galatians
Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 9.41.45 AM
NA28, Galatians… with the Greek highlighted. Notice the bottom with the definition.

Admittedly, I have used Accordance more on iPad than I have in real life (i.e., my Macbook). I almost prefer it, actually.

One of the things I wish to highlight here is the learning curve. I almost refuse to read the directions because I want to see what it is like to dive in. It took me all of 2 minutes to figure how to install the NA28 on my iPad. Go to library, installed purchases, select the new module, hit the arrow and you are done. Because the app is stripped down, the learning curve is small. I don’t mean stripped down as in useless, but stripped down as in minimalism so as to make room for more usefulness.

NA28, Galatians – iPad
Say, what is that word? Let me highlight it in the NA28
Wait.. I can search it by different means… from WITHIN the Accordance Bible software app?
I can search… I can search for it my Lemma in the Accordance Bible software app.

In all honesty, the NA28 (or other Greek modules, I assume) in the Accordance Bible app is my favorite way to read it.

Back the desktop version, for a minute. The original language features includes speaking, parsing, a word chart, and a diagram. Screenshots are below:

NA28, Accordance “Galatians 3.10, diagram”
NA28, Accordance “Galatians 3.10, parsing”
NA28, Accordance “Galatians 3.10, speaking.” Admittedly, the voice is not as smooth as Siri, but if you are looking for a way to pronounce a word, it will suffice.
Word chart
NA28, Accordance “Galatians 3.10, word chart”


Overall, reading the Original Languages are easy in Accordance and should benefit students and scholars of these marvelous tongues.

In the Mail, “The Church in Exile Living in Hope After Christendom” @ivpacademic

The people of God throughout history have been a people of exile and diaspora. Whether under the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks or Romans, the people chosen by God have had to learn how to be a holy people in alien lands and under foreign rule.

For much of its history, however, the Christian church lived with the sense of being at home in the world, with considerable influence and power. That age of Christendom is now over, and as Lee Beach demonstrates, this is something for which the church should be grateful. The “peace” of Christendom was a false one, and there is no comfortable normalcy to which we can or should return.

Drawing on a close engagement with Old Testament and New Testament texts, The Church in Exile offers a biblical and practical theology for the church in a post-Christian age. Beach helps the people of God today to develop a hopeful and prophetic imagination, a theology responsive to its context, and an exilic identity marked by faithfulness to God’s mission in the world.

Read more here.

is Galatians written against the Roman imperial cult?

What follows is an unedited portion of my dissertation. In the larger context, I am trying to establish that the particular image for the death of Christ would have been known by the people(s) of Galatia. In the end, I believe the image would have been, but the use of an image does not mean St. Paul was writing against the image, rather, like others, he was using the image familiar to others — an image that carried significant weight. Admittedly, I am more surprised over the connection between Galatians and the Celts, not the mention human sacrifice. 

The Pergamon Altar in the Pergamonmuseum in Berlin
The Pergamon Altar in the Pergamonmuseum in Berlin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recent Scholarship on The Imperial Cult and Galatians

With the act of the devotio seemingly drawn from Roman sources, it behooves me to mention the current state of scholarship around the imperial cult and the Epistle to the Galatians. While I will not pass judgment on the rise and use of Empire as a lens in reading the New Testament, mainly in American scholarship, one must remember the use of an image found in other cults does not mean Paul is using it to counter or otherwise overtake he previous cult. While devotio as an image is one primarily associated with Roman imperial ideology, I maintain this does not mean Paul used it as an argument against Rome. However, it is necessary to examine recent scholarship, if for nothing else but to show Paul’s audience would have at least known the religious and political implications of the image.

In the recent decade, there have been two major works examining the connection of the imperial cult to the epistle. The first is Galatians Re-Imagined by Brigitte Kahl, a work removing the Judaism of Paul’s opponents, replacing it with a juxtapose against Roman views of law and order.[1] The second work, Galatians and the Imperial Cult, sees the argument of Galatians something akin to a civic rebellion.[2] Rather than delve into the merits and conclusions of their argument, I will examine their evidences of the imperial cult with the corollary that context does not mean argument, rather only serves as an allowance for the use of known images.

Kahl avoids the distinction between North and South as the province of the letter, going much further and connecting it to the whole of the Gaul-Galatia bloodline. She bases this on history as well as the linguistic plight in not separating the Gauls inhabiting the area now known as France and the descendants of the Celtic diaspora occupying an area in Asia Minor as well as a post-Constantinian interpretative strategy she abhors. After promoting her view by using binaries and other linguistic turns, Kahl finally delves into re-imagining Galatians. She removes the Jewish ethnocentrism that is the usual exegetical framework only to replace it with the visual images of the Great Altar of Pergamon.[3] Because of this, she is able to then compare each statement by Paul against Roman images of somewhat equal standing. For instance, God is juxtaposed against the Emperor while the freedom promised by the Gospel is contrasted with Roman (and not Jewish) law. Of course, as usual with Empire critics, “gospel” becomes solely the answer to the Emperor’s news of victory. Kahl adds to the discussion of the possible imperial cult in Galatians only what we already know, that as a Roman province, it was prevalent; however, she does add the ability to see cultic images in Galatians, even if the caol áit are too thin.

One particular image is the use of gladiatorial games as a form of human sacrifice. As often is the case, Kahl begins with the Great Altar where the images of human sacrifice are explicit and then moves to Galatians. She notes the arena is bereft of the usual connotations of ritual sacrifice such as the absence of priests and the need for the community to be reconciled with the deities. However, what are present are segregated spaces, a well-regulated public stage, mythological overtones of blood, and the act of a sacrifice meant to bind the community together. She notes, “the games can be seen to have a cathartic effect by vicariously eliminating violence and evil dwelling not only outside but also inside the social body, for example, in terms of slave or gladiatorial rebellions, treachery, and civil wars (emphasis mine).”[4] The battle becomes a sacrifice to purify the community of violence, reuniting the community after a struggle. That the Galatians were not foreign to human sacrifice is forever recorded by Diodorus.[5] The act of human sacrifice had become abhorrent to the Romans, but was still welcomed and proclaimed among the Galatians.[6]

Justin K. Hardin’s work fleshes the imperial cult out, adding another dimension. Hardin writes, “It is clear that often the public worship of the emperor, rather than supplanting the local pagan religions in the Greek East, was simply amalgamated with it.”[7] Galatia was a unique province within the Roman Empire. Augustus colonized both north and south, although the southern portion of the province required quelling (c. 5 BCE).[8] Because of this, unlike other Greek ruling cults brought in with various new rulers, the Roman imperial cult began by Augustus, moved into all realm of the public and private life exactly because it was designed too.[9] It “superseded traditional religious worship with a uniform system of religious devotion” binding the colonized lands with the Emperor, rather than other forms of Roman religion. While the people inhabiting the province of Galatia had long roots back to Gaul, with those roots transporting and preserving their native religion, their indigenous deities and temples were replaced (at least in importance) with the Roman ritualistic caste. For instance, Pessinus, while often thought to be the temple of Cybele (who will factor into our discussion later) is devoted instead to the Roman cult.[10] While this substitution took place, the people of the province were able to avoid assimilation. Even at the Pessinus temple, Celtic priests still performed rituals making use of both Rome and indigenous cultic aspects.[11]

While both Kahl and Hardin go one to reinterpret Galatians in light of the surrounding, provincial, imperial cult they see, they both fail to make use of the non-assimilationist stance held by the non-Jewish population of Galatia. If the native religion could prevent assimilation, then it is more than likely the Jews (with their imperial protection) would not feel the overall pressure as both Kahl and Hardin suggest they do, even a new sect within Judaism. However, what both show is that the imperial cultic images were prevalent in Galatia while not acting as a major threat and at times were themselves transformed to aid the local religion. This allowed other images to be used in dialogic currency. Further, while Hardin does not focus on it, Kahl does mention the very visual presence of human sacrifice in the public arena, and it is a sacrifice used for both civic and cultic binding. Finally, neither sees the death of Christ as any particular theological or ideological turn in Paul’s letter. It is imply another part.

[1] Brigitte Kahl, Galatians Re-Imagined: Reading With the Eyes of the Vanquished (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010).

[2] Justin K. Hardin, Galatians and the Imperial Cult: A Critical Analysis of the First-Century Social Context of Paul’s Letter (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008).

[3] For instance, Kahl attempts to compare Paul’s prologue (Galatians 1.1–9) with the physical image of the Great Altar (246–47). It is based on the imagery of war and wrestling.

[4] Kahl, Re-imagining Galatians, 163.

[5] Kahl connects the human sacrifices of the Gauls/Galatians to the sacrificial act of sacking Rome as well as the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi (42–3). Of a particular note is the sacrifice of a Galatian man and woman (as well as Greek pairing) twice in Rome during the Second Punic War in a devotio meant to save the city from devastation. Hannibal, the threat to Rome, never managed to sack Rome, but would soon find Carthage itself sacrificed to the gods in the place of Rome. See James Smith Reid, “Human Sacrifices at Rome and Other Notes on Roman Religion,” in Journal of Roman Studies. Vol. 2. (1912), 34­–52 and Zsuzsanna Várhelyi, “The Specters of Roman Imperialism:The Live Burials of Gaulsand Greeks at Rome,” Classical Antiquity. Vol. 26. (2007), 277–304.

[6] Kahl suggests Nero reenacted the return to human sacrifice on behalf of easing social tension and creating a new social order (or city, in this case) when he charged the Christians with setting Rome on fire (296).

[7] Hardin, Galatians and the Imperial Cult, 40. Unlike either the Roman imperial cult or the indigenous Celtic cults, Judaism was not local, but rather focused back to Jerusalem.

[8] Hardin, Galatians and the Imperial Cult, 49, 56.

[9] Hardin, Galatians and the Imperial Cult, 47.

[10] Hardin, Galatians and the Imperial Cult, 41. See also Marc Waelkens, “The Imperial Sanctuary at Pessinus: Archaeological, Epigraphical and Numismatic Evidence for Its Date and Identification.” Epigraphcia Anatolica, Vol 7 1986, 37–72; and, John Devreker, Thoen Hugo, and Vermeulen Frank, “The Imperial Sanctuary at Pessinus and its Predecessors: A Revision.” Anatolia Antiqua, Tome 3, 1995. 125-144.

[11] Hardin, Galatians and the Imperial Cult, 69. Hardin mentions the use of sacrifices performed by the priests, much as Kahl above. What not as clear as Kahl, Hardin notes that the Temple had as part of its complex a Roman-style arena. These priests would provide gladiatorial games and other hecatombs during their tenure, allowing the priest to offer sacrifices that combined civic and cultic intents. See Stephen Mitchell, “Galatia under Tiberius,” Chiron, Vol 16., 1986, 17–33.

Book Recommendation: Digital Religion, Social Media and Culture: Perspectives, Practices and Futures @PeterLangUSA

The description:

This anthology – the first of its kind in eight years – collects some of the best and most current research and reflection on the complex interactions between religion and computer-mediated communication (CMC). The contributions cohere around the central question: how will core religious understandings of identity, community and authority shape and be (re)shaped by the communicative possibilities of Web 2.0? The authors gathered here address these questions in three distinct ways: through contemporary empirical research on how diverse traditions across the globe seek to take up the technologies and affordances of contemporary CMC; through investigations that place these contemporary developments in larger historical and theological contexts; and through careful reflection on the theoretical dimensions of research on religion and CMC. In their introductory and concluding essays, the editors uncover and articulate the larger intersections and patterns suggested by individual chapters, including trajectories for future research.

There are two online reviews, here and here.

I am currently finishing my review for a journal, so I cannot post it here. However, for those considering online sacraments, online communities, or even resources directed towards a church website, consider this book.

If I have time, I will dialogue with one particular essay. Yes, there is a need for theologians to be online – and the absence of sound theology has given rise to some really bad brands. Like progressive UMers and fundamentalists.