Saturday, June 20, 2009

Chronic Illness and Identity Formation in Paul

Audrey Dawson. Healing, Weakness and Power: Perspectives on Healing in the Writings of Mark, Luke and Paul. Milton Keynes, U.K.: Paternoster, 2008. Pp. xvii + 302. ISBN 978-1-84227-524-5. $38.00 paper.

Here is an excerpt from a book review I just completed:

...Dawson argues, in chapter five, that Paul’s presentation of Jesus’ healing ministry is quite different in comparison to Mark and Luke. The source of this difference is Paul’s experience with personal illness in which he developed his theology of suffering and mission (2 Cor 12:7-10). Dramatic physical healings were thus not a central part of Paul’s ministry. Furthermore, Dawson understands Paul’s message of spiritual salvation to the gentiles to be an extension and his re-contextualization of the earthly ministry of Jesus which had emphasized physical healing...
My interest in this is thinking about Paul's social identity in the context of a person with a chronic illness. Paul is often presented as a domineering, power-hungry, authoritarian leader within the Christ-movement. However, does the image of Paul as a Chronically ill leader change that perspective? Furthermore, Kathy Ehrensperger has argued something quite similar concerning Paul's asymmetrical position within the Christ-movement. Paul, the apostle to the nations, one who is a servant of Christ and chronically suffering. Talk about an ongoing identity forming factor.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Magic and Identity Formation

The prayer of Jacob is located on a Greek magical papyrus. It may plausibly be dated to the first century C.E. but a precise date can not be determined (Horst and Newman: 218). This brings up the issue of magic in the formation of Christ-movement identity. Jerome Neyrey has done a nice analysis of magic from the approach of cultural anthropology (see 'Bewitched in Galatia: Paul and Cultural Anthropology' CBQ 50 (2001): 72-100. William Simmons notes the following concerning magic from the Greek magical papyri.

1. complicated rituals, spells, and recipes;
2. sequential uttering of divine names and nonsense syllables in the hope of hitting the right "password";
3. an eclectic, syncretistic approach;
4. coercion and manipulation of the deities;
5. requests concerning the immediate desires of the individual (2008: 191).

Magic was the lens through which much of the world was understood. Marcel Simon notes concerning Jewish magic had "a great respect for Hebrew phrases which were obviously not understood, but which seemed to the Jews to have magical power; second, a sense of the power of the divine name, and idea certainly not original with Judaism; third, an overwhelming regard for angels and demons, which went over into a clear and elaborate angelolatry" (cited in Newman 2008: 219-20). Judith H. Newman notes "the prayer of Jacob contains the first two elements: arcane and mysterious "Hebraic words and a sense of the power of the divine name and its epithets" (2008: 220).

So, what does this have to do with identity formation? Often we only think through the official institutionalized descriptions of religious practice but we should ask how the broader Roman religious setting and practices formed Christ-movement identity. Magic and the private practice of religion in the Roman empire contributed to the formation of Christ-movement identity in ways other rituals and discourses that are 'approved' by the leaders of the Christ-movement.

So, where would you go to find resources for private religious practices in the first century? Check Galatians 3:1 and then the book of Acts.

Horst, Pieter Willem van der, and Judith H. Newman. Early Jewish Prayers in Greek. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008.

Simmons, William A. Peoples of the New Testament World: An Illustrated Guide. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc, 2008.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Early Jewish Prayers in Christian Worship and Identity

Pieter W. van der Horst and Judith H. Newman. Early Jewish Prayers in Greek. Commentaries on Early Jewish Literature. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008. Pp. xvi + 298. ISBN 978-3-11-020503-9. $118.00 cloth.

Here is an excerpt of a book review I am writing for a journal:

The introduction discusses the nature and origin of the Apostolic Constitutions (AC); in which van der Horst argues for a provenance in Syria around 380 C.E. His textual criticism discussion follows closely the work of Marcel Metzger. The history of the research into the Jewish origin and nature of these Christian prayers in AC 7.33-38 focuses on the foundational maximalist work of Kolher, Bousset, and Goodenough who argue that the prayers were Jewish in orientation with rather easily recognizable Christian interpolations. This was the predominant view until the minimalist work of Fiensy who called into question some of the methodological approaches of the previous group of scholars, especially with regard to the ease of identifying Christian interpolations. Fiensy concludes, however, that the prayers represent Jewish synagogal prayers which follow contours of Rabbinic thought at the beginning of the fourth century (22). The reason for including the Jewish prayers with Christian interpolations in AC, argues van der Horst, is that the Christians in Antioch were attracted to Judaism and this was one way in which leadership could keep Christians from thinking they needed to attend the synagogue on the Sabbath to pray prayers like the Seven Benedictions (25). The next section of the introduction sets forth the task of the commentary. It will follow Fiensy’s general approach with contextually determined modifications to Fiensy’s conclusions; while focusing only on “Jewish prayers that have been christianized” (28). Thus, this commentary will not consider AC 8.6.5-8. Van der Horst’s translation will differentiate between Jewish redactional layers, Christian interpolations, while leaving unmarked those sections of text in which it is unclear if they are Jewish or Christian in origin. The introduction concludes with a useful bibliography that contains multiple entries 2007.

What is most interesting is thinking through the traditional approach to the 'parting of the ways' with regard to Jewish and Christian identity. It appears that at least in Antioch the Christians were still associating and being drawn to Judaism - possibly still not seeing significant differences between these movements with regard to their social identity. It furthermore appears that its leaders, like John Chrysostom's eight anti-Jewish homilies that were given in 386/7 indicates that the leadership of the church did not see thinks in a similar fashion. Van der Horst quotes Marcel Simon, "the anti-Jewish bias of official ecclesiastical circles was counterbalanced by equally marked pro-Jewish sentiments among the laity and among some of the clergy, too. Or rather, it is the existence of the pro-Jewish sentiments among the laity that is the real explanation of Christian anti-Semitism" (24).

Further reference:
Bousset, Wilhelm. Eine jüdische Gebetssammlung im siebenten Buch der apostolischen Konstitutionen. 1916.

Fiensy, David A. Prayers Alleged to Be Jewish: An Examination of the Constitutiones Apostolorum. Brown Judaic studies, no. 65. Chico, Calif: Scholars Press, 1985.

Goodenough, Erwin Ramsdell. By Light, Light; The Mystic Gospel of Hellenistic Judaism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1935.

Kohler, Kaufmann. "The Origin and Composition of the Eighteen Benedictions with a Translation of the Corresponding Essene Prayers in the Apostolic Constitutions". HUCA 1 (1924): 387-425.

Metzger, Marcel. Les constitutions apostoliques ; éditeur sci. et trad. Marcel Metzger. Sources Chrétiennes, 320. Paris: Ed. du Cerf, 1985.

Simon, Marcel. Verus Israel: A Study of the Relations between Christians and Jews in the Roman Empire, 135-425. Oxford: Published for the Littman Library by Oxford University Press, 1986.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What Must I Do to Be Saved? Paul and his Jewish Heritage

What Must I Do To Be Saved? Paul Parts Company With His Jewish Heritage. By Barry D. Smith. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2007, xiii + 285 pp., $90.00 hardcover.

Here is the first paragraph of my review of the book to be published in JETS: Chapter one provides a wide survey of Second Temple literature that points out that obedience to the Law rightly interpreted leads to eschatological salvation. Barry D. Smith, associate professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Atlantic Baptist University, in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, sees a rather consistent teaching within these non-sectarian as well as sectarian texts from Qumran of God as a righteous judge who will hold people accountable for their obedience or their disobedience to his Law. However, God is not only a righteous judge; Smith also detects in these texts a consistent pattern that argues that God is also to be understood as merciful. Thus, God is described as the one “who removes guilt resulting from transgression of the Law on the simple condition of repentance” (p. 34). This forms the basis of the synergistic soteriology that Smith observes in these otherwise disparate texts from the various forms of early Judaism. Central to Smith’s argument is the rejection of ‘the new perspective on Paul’. Moreover, he contends that “Second-Temple Judaism was characterized in part by a legalistic works-righteousness” and that this historical-religious context is a prerequisite for a coherent reading of Paul’s soteriological reflections (p. 71, emphasis original).
Questions to think about in the context of Smith's work and/or reflections on the new perspective on Paul and the traditional Augustinian and Lutheran readings of Paul:
1. Are there any problems rejecting the idea that the Law was never given for life?
2. Can we actually find a consistent thread of doctrine in disparate texts?
3. Should the general practice of relying on parallels be called into question?
4. Isn't it more accurate to argue that Paul was continuous with Judaism rather than discontinuous?
5. Does arguing that God is working in two discontinuous ways with regard to Jews and gentiles call into question divine integrity?
Thanks to William S. Campbell for the stimulating discussion on this issue.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Matthew's Genealogy, Goodacre, and Imperialism

Mark Goodacre has begun a brief but informative podcast dealing with aspects of New Testament studies. His first podcast deals with the presence of the 4 women in Matthew's genealogy. You can listen to the podcast by clicking here. Craig Blomberg notes that these women may have been included "as examples of sinners Jesus came to save, representative Gentiles to whom the Christian mission would be extended, or women who had illicit marriages and/or illegitimate children. The only factor that clearly applies to all four is that suspicions of illegitimacy surrounded their sexual activity and childbearing" (1992: 55-56). Craig Keener sees the gentile connection and notes that "Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel" would have been expected if Israelite matriarchy was in view (1999: 78). Ben Witherington notes Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba are mentioned "to emphasize 'divine irregularity'...[to] provide precedents by which the Evangelist can defend within an honor and shame culture what God did in regard to Mary" (2006: 41). While these are all possible, the context of first century Roman imperialism might provide insight into the role of these women in the genealogy. Warren Carter contends that "the Gospel's hearers are to supply information from the biblical tradition to expand cryptic textual references and to elaborate names" (2001: 98). Each of these women are seen in the context of imperialism and it may be Matthew's way of indicating that God's purposes will be accomplished in spite of imperial claims and domination. So, Matthew's inclusion of these women in the genealogy might function as an identity forming discourse within the Jesus-movement in order to indicate that despite conquest and domination God's plan will be fulfilled. So, someone might be interested in tracking down the imperial context of each of these four women and relate that to Mary's experience with Roman Imperialism and see if this suggestion holds up.
Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. The New American commentary, v. 22. Nashville, Tenn: Broadman Press, 1992.
Carter, Warren. Matthew and Empire: Initial Explorations. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2001.
Keener, Craig S. A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub, 1999.
Witherington, Ben. Matthew. Smyth & Helwys Bible commentary. Macon, Ga: Smyth & Helwys Pub, 2006.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Worship and the transformation of Christian Identity

Leonora Tubbs Tisdale contends that ‘a focus upon identity does remind us that at the heart of Christian worship is the formation and transformation of Christian identity – both individual and corporate – through the mysterious workings of the Holy Spirit. In worship we bring our assumptions about God, nature, time, and humanity into a realm where we encounter, through the “strange new world” of God’s revelation, new ways of envisioning and living in relationship with God and all creation. In worship we offer our own limited worldviews and distorted values unto a God who can, through the Spirit’s workings, extend our myopic vision and correct our astigmatisms. And in worship, we enter a realm in which we ourselves – through the singing of hymns, offering of prayers, and participation in various ritual acts – engage in a dance of faith that also serves as dress rehearsal for faithful and transformed living in the realm of God’s reign.
Preaching, then has to do with the formation and transformation of Christian identity – not only of individuals, but also of congregations. Yet if we as preachers are going to proclaim the gospel in ways capable of transforming congregational identity, we first need to become better acquainted with the ways in which our people already imagine God and the world. If we are going to aid in the extension of myopic vision or the correction of astigmatic values, then we must first strive to “see” God and the world as our people do. And if we are going to engage our people in ritual acts that enable them to become better dancers of the faith – both within worship and without – then we must first know where their steps are faltering and where they are most in need of dress rehearsal for the new age to come’ (Leonora Tubbs Tisdale, Preaching as local theology and folk art. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997: 57).

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Peoples of the New Testament World Review

Here are the opening paragraphs of my soon to be published book review on Peoples of the New Testament: An Illustrated Guide. William A. Simmons, associate professor of New Testament at Lee University, seeks to describe the characteristics of the groups evident in the New Testament and how these groups interacted and influenced one another. Simmons begins with a series of defining moments in the survival of Jewish identity from the Babylonian period to the early Roman empire. He argues that Jewish identity during this period was constructed in opposition to the various occupying powers. The varying responses to imperialism, however, contributed to the fragmentation of Jewish identity that resulted in identity-based groups evident in the New Testament. Simmons gives full attention to the impact of empire and insightfully recognizes that political, social, and religious factions contributed to communal destabilization within the Christ-movement.
Jewish groups are the focus of chapters two through five. Simmons plausibly traces the beginnings of the Pharisees to the reforms of Ezra whilst noting that a concern for the survival of Jewish identity informed the Pharisees’ commitment to following the law. The Sadducees are presented as possibly being associated with the Zadokites and are seen as having similar approaches to cultural assimilation as a means of negotiating Jewish identity in the context of imperialism. The social and political power of the scribes is discussed by Simmons who notes that in Israel, the scribes were central to the discursive formation of Jewish identity. The Zealots are presented as a group that is understood in a binary relationship to the emerging ethos of the early Christ-movement.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Six questions for an ordination examination

It is difficult to find example ordination questions from which to prepare and since I am participating in an ordination examination today, I was wondering what kind of questions I should ask. Maybe these 6 could be interesting. 1. What testament (the Old or New Testament) takes priority in interpreting the Old Testament? 2. What limits, if any, apply to the atonement of Christ? 3. Is inerrancy a logical extension of the doctrine of inspiration? Explain. 4. How does Israel relate to the Church? What specific future, if any, awaits national Israel? 5. Sketch an outline of your basic hermeneutical approach to the Bible. 6. How does the Holy Spirit relate to believers in the present age? What principles/texts relate to the Spirit's enablement in the Church? These questions seem to cover a significant amount of theological content and would indicate quite a bit about the pastoral-theological position of the candidate. What do you think, care to answer these?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Paul Middleton, the Roman empire, and Identity Formation

Paul Middleton, Lecturer in New Testament Studies at University of Wales, Lampeter, in his book Radical Martyrdom And Cosmic Conflict in Early Christianity, doesn’t see official Roman persecution of Christianity until the late 3rd century (2006: 2). However, he does sees the conflict between the two on the level of ideology and worldview differences right from the very beginning. He puts them in ‘binary oppositions with no middle way’ (95). His chapter on Rome is quite good. He notes a quotation from Horsley's Documents vol 4 concerning Nero’s coming to Corinth that is a good example of Roman imperial eschatology (56n.145). Also, Middleton notes ‘Christian language and symbols competed for the same ground as Roman imperial ideology’ (RII) (61). This is quite helpful from an identity formation point of view. If scholars wonder why RII is relevant? I would suggest that the confrontation was at this level, in that they were not being persecuted at this point. Furthermore, Middleton remarks that Christianity was un-Roman on every front (61). Is this too strong or maybe it is quite accurate in the second century but maybe not as much in the first century? So, can one sustain the idea that there was no conflict between the Corinthian Christ-followers and the provincial governing authorities in the mid-first century? If so, what evidence from the non-literary remains would indicate this general possibility? Any thoughts?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"The Sufferings of Christ Are Abundant in Us: A Narrative Dynamics Investigation of Paul's Sufferings in 2 Corinthians"

Kar Yong Lim, a recent graduate of the University of Wales, Lampeter under the supervision of William S. Campbell and Kathy Ehrensperger (also my supervisors), new book The Sufferings of Christ Are Abundant in Us has been released in the UK by T&T Clark. It is an excellent book that looks at the narrative substructure of 2 Corinthians with regard to suffering. It will be out in the US market around July 2009. If you want to pre-order it through Amazon you can click here.
Kar is a Lecturer in New Testament Studies at Seminari Theoloji Malaysia in Seremban, Malaysia.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Viva Voce successful

My viva voce was successful. It was completed on the 28th of May 2009. My experience was amazing and the examiners were thorough and marked by detail. I passed with minor corrections. The picture to the left shows those who were involved with the examination as well as my supervisors.