Monday, April 12, 2021

CFP for ANZABS 2021

 

AOTEAROA NEW ZEALAND ASSOCIATION FOR BIBLICAL STUDIES

24th ANNUAL MEETING

 

6-7 December 2021

Te Kupenga Catholic Theological College

CALL FOR PAPERS 2021

 

The 2021 Annual Meeting of ANZABS will take place at Te Kupenga Catholic Theological College (formerly Good Shepherd College) in Auckland on 6-7 December 2021. Further details of the meeting will follow later. But please put it in your diary now!

 

We are seeking papers of 20 minute duration, which will be followed by 10 minutes of discussion. As a rule of thumb, presenters talk at about 100 words a minute so a 20- minute paper should equate to roughly 2,000 words.

 

When you submit a paper proposal, please include a title and a 100 word abstract of the proposed paper.

 

Paper proposals should be sent to Emily Colgan at: ecolgan@trinitycollege.ac.nz Proposals should be received by 24 September 2021 – though early proposals are most welcome!

 

Further details on registration and conference arrangements will be sent out in late September. Conference fees will be set at $30 (waged) and $20 (unwaged, including retirees). This will be paid to the organization hosting the conference to cover expenses including catering.

 

Please share this call for papers widely, and do especially encourage graduate students to think about offering a paper.

 

We look forward to seeing you at Te Kupenga Catholic Theological College towards the end of the year!

 

Emily Colgan

(on behalf of the ANZABS Executive)

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

The Gourd is the Messiah!?

No this is not a Monty Python sketch, but my new article on Jonah's gourd and the way it is (possibly/probably/maybe) referenced in Mark's account of Jesus in Gethsemane. 


Jonah’s Gourd and Mark’s Gethsemane: 

A Study in Allegorical Messianic Intertextuality

A number of scholars have recognized a verbal allusion to Jon. 4.9 in Mk 14.34. However, the Gethsemane account (Mk 14.32-42) may allude to the narrative of Jon. 4 in other ways not previously observed. Some modern interpreters have suggested an allegorical messianic interpretation of Jonah’s gourd as Zerubbabel, despite lacking any basis for this interpretation in early Jewish literature. Mark’s allusion may be formerly unrecognized evidence of such an interpretation from the first century CE. This article will examine the wider allusion to Jon. 4 in Mk 14, suggest what kind of exegesis of Jon. 4 might motivate that allusion, and argue for the coherence of such an allusion within the immediate Markan context.

It is now published in Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 43:3 (2021), pp. 370–388. If you don't have access to the journal you can read a pre-publication version on Academia.edu. If you need to cite it and don't have access, contact me and I'll be happy to share the published version with you.

The idea for this article came out of my PhD thesis, although this article is only a footnote in the actual thesis, I thought the idea was worth exploring further. It's nice to have it published as now, when and if I publish my thesis, I can reference my own article (scholarly life goals)! As he is today, there is evidence that Jonah was a character that inspired a lot of speculation and interpretation beyond the "plain reading" of the book named after him. Both Ancient Jews and Christians saw him as a significant figure, and Jewish traditions considerably embellished his story in exciting ways. The book of Jonah ends unfinished and on a question. I wonder if Mark got the idea for his abrupt and open ended conclusion to his Gospel from reading/hearing the story of Jonah?

Let me know what you think :-)


Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Von Thaden and "slogans" in 1 Cor 6:12-20

A few posts back I shared about my article, the excitingly titled, "The Argument against Attributing Slogans in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20", published in the Journal for the Study of Paul and his Letters. Long term readers of the blog will know that that was based on work done for my Masters thesis way back in 2010. But that is biblical scholarship for you, the wheels generally grind slowly (or not at all).

Anyway, I'm still returning to 1 Cor 6:12-20, there is plenty more to say on the matter (although I promise I do have other interests!) and while doing some research for something else I came across the even more excitingly titled Sex, Christ, and Embodied Cognition: Paul's Wisdom for Corinth by Robert H. von Thaden. His book was published around the same time as my article was under review, so there was no opportunity for us to use each other's work, but we arrive at very similar conclusions.

Obviously you'll have to read the book to get the detailed argument, but von Thaden begins by arguing, far more directly than I have, that the slogan hypothesis is not motivated by exegesis but historical construction.

. . . the genesis of various slogan hypotheses, like that of partition theories from the last century, is the desire to  resolve what scholars view as unsettling or intractable interpretive difficulties. . . a reconsideration of the function of various slogan hypotheses allows for a more nuanced reading of Paul's didactic rhetoric in 1 Cor 6:12-7:7. (p.197)

Like me, von Thaden's concern is that these reconstructions make a mess of the flow of Paul's thought, and he employs the category of didactic rhetoric to argue that Paul inventively uses many different sources to construct his argument, but in doing so does not refute them but employs all the elements together to persuade his audience. So, even if the so-called slogans are phrases that the Corinthians employ as "slogans", that still does not justify dismembering them from Paul's composite rhetorical structure.

Rather than resort to so-called slogans that purport to tell biblical scholars what is taking place "behind" Paul's letter, it makes more exegetical and rhetorical sense to read Paul's teaching 6:12-7:7 as a coherent example of didactic rhetoric . . . (p.199)

I believe that this interpretation restores a rhetorical integrity to the argument found in 6:12-7:7 that the search for Pauline opponents has obscured. (p.201)

So It is very encouraging to find someone following a similar line of thought to me but arriving there independently. I haven't had time to read the whole book, but the bits I have dipped into seem well written and to be extremely thoroughly researched, so check it out if you are into Paul, 1 Corinthians, or things like that! :-) I'll leave the last word to my new friend von Thaden:

I modestly suggest that handling the difficulties of 1 Cor 6:12-7:7 with slogan hypotheses, at least as they have traditionally been deployed in historical-critical studies, creates more problems than it solves. Paul certainly appropriated insights from all manner of resources, but given how paradoxical his thinking is I think it makes the best exegetical sense to put Paul back in control of his argument and to read 1 Cor 6:12-7:7 "without quotation marks."  (p.202)

Let me know what you think! :-)

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Defining a Pastor (Oden)

I'm currently reading Thomas C. Oden, Pastoral Theology (1983). Judging by the introduction this seems to be the book where he started to figure out his avowedly-unoriginal "ecumenical consensus" approach to theology which works so well in his big systematic theology, Classic Christianity. As a Baptist in a denomination that currently has virtually no theology of ordination (yes, you read that right) it is challenging to read a book from Oden's ecumenical perspective. However, as Oden notes any emphasis on a distinct ordination of ministers risks undermining the general ministry of the Church (p.26). As a Baptist the danger of an ordained priesthood is that it would seem to contradict the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9-10). Nonetheless, there is no doubting that even within Baptistic churches, focused on the ministry of the people, the office of pastor has a peculiarity to it which, perhaps because it is so under theologised/theorised often becomes an authoritarian and managerial role. In this, I love Oden's centering definition of the pastoral vocation, as well as his repeated warnings as to how it can be abused.  

All the varied activities of the pastor have a single center: life in Christ. Pastoral theology seeks to point to that center in credible contemporary language and to see every single function in relation to that center. The Center is Christ's own ministry for us and through us, embodied in distortable ways through our language, through the work of our hands, and quietly through our bodily presence. (p. 3)

"The pastor," concisely defined, is a member of the body of Christ who is called by God and the church and set apart by ordination representatively to proclaim the Word, to administer the sacraments, and to guide and nurture the Christian community toward full response to God's self disclosure. (p 50)

Wherever Christians speak of authority or dignity of ministry or headship of the shepherd, these are not properly understood as coercive modes of power, but persuasive, participative modes of benevolent, empathetic guidance. This is an extraordinarily complex, subtle, and highly nuanced conception of authority, but it is intimately familiar to those who love Christ and listen for his voice. The proper authority of ministry is not an external, manipulative, alien power that distances itself from those "under" it, but rather a legitimized and happily received influence that wishes only good for its recipient, a leadership that boldly guides but on on the basis of a deeply empathetic sense of what the flock yearns for and needs. The analogy of shepherd was not promiscuously or thoughtlessly chosen by Jesus as the centerpiece of ministry, but wells up from the heart of God's own ministry to the world. (p. 53)

Anytime ministerial leadership of authority is asserted as a bald, coercive power over the will of the recipient, it has already become alienated from the interpersonal analogies that show evidence of its deeper participation  in the body of Christ. (p. 54)

Jesus prayed: "As thou hast sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world" (John 17:18). A moving analogy her begins to unfold between incarnation and apostolicity, between God's engagement in the world in Christ and our engagement in the world as ambassadors for Christ. (p. 61)

Let me know what you think :-)

Friday, November 27, 2020

Christ's Hidden Divinity?: Davies and Sonderegger on the Markan Transfiguration

One side effect of spending 3+ years working on a particular Gospel is that, while you recognise you still have plenty to learn, you feel rather protective of it and resentful of those who publish on passages where you have particular ideas waiting to be published. One such passage where I think my research has arrived at a new and not unimportant interpretation is the Transfiguration in Mark 9:2-9. So, it was with some trepidation I read Jamie Davies' new article on the same passage.

"Apocalyptic Topography in Mark’s Gospel: Theophany and Divine Invisibility at Sinai, Horeb, and the Mount of Transfiguration", Journal of Theological Interpretation Vol. 14, No. 1 (2020), pp. 140-148 

Davies is an expert in NT apocalyptic and appears to work mainly in Paul and Revelation. In this article he discusses both Mark's Transfiguration account in light of the theology of Katherine Sonderegger. 

For Davies "much discussion of apocalyptic theology in the New Testament has had a tendency to foreground eschatology in a way that has displaced the the importance of epistemology to its detriment" (p143). For him a key feature of Mark's Transfiguration account is the way that it reflects the "distinctly veiled" theophanies of Exodus 24 and 33 and 1 Kings 19, where "divine appearance is marked by a distinct ambiguity" (p141). In Davies' reading he finds it "most unusual" that "it seems like Mark goes out of his way to create a scene that does not so much clarify as obscure the divine identity of Jesus" (p144). He does not explain where in Mark he finds passages that are clear regarding Jesus' divine identity. Most likely (but possibly not) he means the stilling of the storm (Mark 4:35-41 ) and the walking on the water (Mark 6:45-52), usually considered the high point of Mark's narrative Christological portrayal, but I'm not sure these are any clearer in terms of divine identity than the Transfiguration - certainly their Christological implications are fiercely contested. 

Regardless, from this analysis Davies goes on to argue that Mark's Gospel has a doctrine of God similar that of Katherine Sonderegger in her The Doctrine of God (Fortress, 2015). Davies moves on to discuss Sonderegger's explication of "hiddenness as the mode of God's immanence and omnipresence" (Davies, p145). He uses Sonderegger's exegesis of 2 Kings 6 (Elisha and the blinded Arameans) to critique J. Louis Martyn's approach to Pauline apocalyptic: rather than warfare and invasion (Martyn) Davies sees apocalyptic as revelation of what is hidden (p145). Categorising the story of Elisha and the blinded Arameans as an apocalypse he writes, "This apocalypse is surely an epistemic claim, underlined, in a further narrative twist, when the armies of the Aramean king are defeated through blindness." Davies then relates Sonderegger's metaphysics of hiddenness to Mark's Transfiguration, "The apocalyptic theophany in Mark is both the visible disclosure of Jesus' glory and the (paradoxical) revelation of the invisibility of God in Christ" (p.146-47). In his reading, the Transfiguration is Mark's "narrative expression of an apocalyptic epistemology" and "reveals the presence of the One God in Jesus Christ precisely in his hiddenness" (p147).

Some quick thoughts . . .

1. I'm not convinced he's really got to grips with Mark if he sees obscurity as a "most unusual" feature. In terms of divine Christology, Mark is arguably the most obscure Gospel - and consistently so. Also, I'm not sure why "Apocalyptic Topography" in the title, he just cites Elizabeth Malbon on topography, his real focus is epistemology. 

2. I like his focus on apocalyptic epistemology. I have a half baked idea for a paper on Mark's epistemology and this has inspired me to look into it some more . . . sometime.

3. I'm out of touch with apocalyptic and Paul but I didn't think Martyn was representative of the field, I thought he was more a Barthian exegete influential on pro-Barth systematic theologians. Anyway, sounds like I need to read up on the subject!

4. I'm intrigued by Sonderegger's work. Both by its apparent basis in exegesis, and by the fact she is there honing in on a pet theological thought revealed to me by my (then) five year old daughter one night at bedtime: if God is everywhere then God has to be invisible or we wouldn't be able to see anything else!

5. This was an intriguing and fun article, rather short and under-referenced, especially when making a few claims that needed some more backing up. I haven't been forced to rethink my own ideas about Mark's Transfiguration (watch this space), but I do think I'll be returning to some of the ideas in this article for other things in the future.

Let me know what you think :-)

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Christmas: Unbiblical and Pagan?

There are a number of websites and groups who tell us that Christians should not celebrate Christmas. Are they right? As often happens with this kind of issue, there is truth mixed in with mistaken interpretation and it is important to be aware which is which.

1) They are right, Christmas is not Biblical. Nowhere in the Bible are Christians told to celebrate Christmas. The earliest Christians celebrated the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:23-26) and Baptism (Matt 28:19) and these are the key celebrations of the church which we are commanded to do in Scripture. More to the point it seems that celebrating Jewish festivals was not encouraged by the apostle Paul because it could lead towards a legalistic faith (see Gal 4:10 and Col 2:16).

So, it should be clear that there is no Biblical requirement to celebrate Christmas. No church should insist that everyone celebrates Christmas. But does that also mean it is wrong if you do celebrate Christmas? Think about it. My church has a special Sunday each year to thank volunteers, or to pray for missionaries, or to celebrate our community work. Those things are not commanded in the Bible. Are they wrong too?

I think some of the confusion here comes from the fact that people think of Christmas as an isolated festival rather than realising it is part of the ancient Church Year. Before the invention of printed books normal Christians did not have their own Bibles. They had to go to church to learn the Gospel message or hear the Scriptures read. The ancient church began to shape its year around the story of Jesus, his promised coming (Advent), his birth (Christmas), his temptation (Lent), his death and resurrection (Easter), and the coming of the Spirit (Pentecost). This way, Christians who came to church would hear the whole Gospel each year. It also meant that Jesus stayed at the centre of church worship. Nowadays, Christians have their own Bibles at home, but they are not always very good at reading them! The Church Year remains a good way of making sure the whole Gospel story is taught. So, while we are not commanded by the Bible to celebrate Christmas every year, having a special Sunday where we tell the good news of God sending his Son to be our saviour is a good thing to do.

2) They are also partly right that Christmas is pagan. Many of the arguments against celebrating Christmas begin with the historical roots of the date for Christmas. The origins of this date are not clear and it is impossible to say with any historical accuracy why December 25th was chosen. It may well have been intended to replace a pagan festival on the same date, but that is not certain. I am more concerned with how Christmas has become more “pagan” today, in the sense that consumerism, gluttony and wastefulness characterise our society’s celebration of Christmas. Overspending, overeating and getting drunk to celebrate Christmas is clearly unchristian and wrong. Likewise, a focus on “Father Christmas,” magical reindeer, and elves, trivialises and obscures the true meaning of Christmas.

So, if Christmas is partly pagan should Christians avoid it altogether? Well, for some Christians that may be the best option. There are many things in life which Christians must discern whether they will be involved or not. For example, the internet is a terrible thing which allows pornography and fake news to be spread, but many Christians also use it for good to spread the Gospel and communicate. Popular music is used to promote licentiousness and consumerism, but the same musical styles can be reclaimed for music that praises God. If we celebrate Christmas, we do not have to engage in the activities that make it (somewhat) pagan – we can celebrate Christmas in a way that honours God.

If Christmas replaced a pagan festival with a Christian one that hardly makes it pagan; if anything, it makes its anti-pagan. Either way, the choice of date for Christmas centuries ago hardly affects our celebration of it today when we have no idea what, if any, festival it has replaced. Fear that our Christmas celebration might be tainted by the date, or that, somehow, we invoke evil when we are sincerely trying to honour God is unhelpful superstition. Don’t forget, “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Any connection to an ancient pagan festival cannot harm those who belong to Christ.

More importantly, by claiming Christmas for Christ we can take advantage of one of the few cultural openings for the Christian faith in modern Western society. At Christmas time people are more open to hearing about God and the message of Jesus. By hosting Christmas celebrations churches have an opportunity to share the Gospel and to direct people to the Christian meaning of Christmas.

3) Christmas is unbiblical and it can be “pagan”, but neither of those things require that Christians should not celebrate Christmas, as long as they do so in a way that honours God. And that really is Biblical. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 14:5-6,

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.


Paul is very clear that we shouldn’t quarrel about “disputable matters” (Romans 14:1) and we shouldn’t judge each other about them either (Romans 14:13). So, if Christmas is still a problem for you, that is fine. Your abstaining from Christmas can honour God, just as my celebration of Christmas can honour God. We should not let such differences divide us. Our unity should be in that we both honour God in what we do.

So, Christmas is an ancient and useful tradition to teach Christians and others about Jesus, but it is not compulsory! Christmas should be celebrated in a way that honours God, so not every Christmas tradition should be accepted uncritically by Christians. A Christian who seeks to honour God has nothing to fear from sincere celebration of Christmas. But most importantly, Christians who disagree about Christmas should not judge each other but should remain united by their shared desire to honour God.

Let me know what you think. :-)

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

New Zealand's Biggest Annual Biblical Studies Conference!

Well OK, it is not very big (at least in comparison to BNTS or SBL), but by virtue of being New Zealand's only annual Biblical studies conference the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Biblical Studies is also the biggest. This year it will feel even bigger as it is being held concurrently with the back-from-the-dead Systematic Theology Association of Aotearoa New Zealand which has not met for a number of years.

It's being held in Christchurch 31st Nov-1st Dec. Here's the program so you know what you are missing, 



Also this is my first time embedding a PDF into a blog post. So congratulations to me for that! ;-)

CFP for ANZABS 2021

  AOTEAROA NEW ZEALAND ASSOCIATION FOR BIBLICAL STUDIES 24th ANNUAL MEETING   6-7 December 2021 Te Kupenga Catholic Theological Coll...