What SBL (apparently) doesn’t “get”

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I have been forwarded a copy of the email the Society for Biblical Literature sent to its members about moving the Review of Biblical Literature into its members-only space.1 I will comment on that email here, trying to point out why I see this as a significant and retrograde move.

But first some background. I have been an SBL member since the early 80s, I retained membership for a few years after I retired from Carey thanks to the generosity of SBL who allowed me to pay as a Student Member. I recently allowed that membership to lapse, though if the new means-tested membership fees had been announced at that time I would probably have renewed. I have attended a number of International (since 1986) and annual meetings of the Society (since the mid-90s), usually giving papers. I stopped attending after retiring from Carey because of the cost of airfares. (I never used the official expensive hotels). I greatly value the Society for its role as the largest and often the most innovative scholarly society in the discipline of biblical studies.

The email opens “In order to solidify RBL’s status as a valuable resource produced primarily by SBL members for SBL members, we will be moving RBL behind the SBL member login.” The heart of this sentence is largely true. RBL is “a valuable resource produced primarily by SBL members for SBL members”. However, the key word is the adverb. Since RBL moved to free open publication on the web it has not been  used exclusively by SBL members. Biblical scholars in majority world contexts, who cannot afford to attend the Society’s meetings, or even perhaps membership in the society, used the resource. Students, at least the good clever sensible students we all love to teach, used it. (How better to evaluate, and get a feel for, a new area of study than to read a few reviews of key texts?)

Such users are now banned and access is only for those willing and able to pay for SBL membership. 2

Apparently the reason for the move is to increase funding for RBL. “Our hope is that, after this period,3 these individuals will join the SBL at least at the public membership level, if not full membership. In addition to significant investment from SBL, the increased financial support thus provided will help fund a number of highly desired upgrades to and expansions of the RBL architecture.

I doubt those students I mentioned, or indeed many of the majority world scholars will follow this perhaps wise hope. I wonder if SBL is measuring the flood of new memberships? A question on the application form would be informative!

Yet my core objection is not that the move will probably fail to achieve its stated objective, but rather what such a move says about the Society which makes it. What shall it profit a scholarly society if it gain the whole Google, but lose its soul?4 If “scholarly information exchange” continues to be privatised with ownership increasingly divided between big international publishing companies5 and scholarly societies then those societies that get in on that act will have lost their raison d’être and may as well shut up shop. If learning is privatised they become mere secret societies for rich-world bible scholars (with a few charity cases on the margins).

Meanwhile biblical scholarship in the two-thirds world will become more and more indebted to the Fundamentalists or dilettantes :(

  1. I have not seen any explanation for the new closed status of RBL on the RBL’s website, though I did not hunt for it when I was refused entry. []
  2. In other news the membership fee has been scaled according to reduced income and is only US$45 for those earning $10,000-25,000. This reduction does allow more majority world scholars to join the society and is a welcome move.  []
  3. Of continued access for individuals who subscribed to the RBL email newsletter but are not SBL members. []
  4. If, in the interests of literary allusion, my non-religious readers will permit this word, if not just read “spirit”. []
  5. I note the recently announced closure of Sheffield Phoenix Press []

Biblical Studies Carnival CXX

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Here is this month’s1  Biblical Studies Carnival (the 120th of its ilk, two of the previous carnivals were hosted at Sansblogue: Carnival LXXIX September 2012; Carnival XXII September 2007)2 I am calling this special anniversary edition the Never Mind the Quality Look at All the Footnotes Edition.3

Nostalgia (prompted by the number 120) for the “good old days”, when Biblical Studies blogs were few in number, yet discussion was lively, usually prompts me to bemoan the death of discussion in blogging, and the rise of the blog as a self-promotional tool, yet this month there were some encouraging signs of life. For example James McGrath published a list of links to discussion of Mark’s Christology which included posts by Daniel Kirk, Michael Bird, a substantial response by Dustin Martyr,4 his own denial of Mike’s proposal, and what was not really a link to the Ehrman-Bird “event” (which I fondly imagine to be polite talk for a knock down academic cage fight).5

In response to my request for nominations of posts by non-White/Anglophone/American/Males the best I received was Bob MacD’s suggestion of a post on Die Evangelischen TheologenAmos, Micah, and Isaiah – A word much needed again today“.6

Scott McKnight posted links to material from non-male and (mainly) non-American scholars in his The Biblical Scholar from the Throw-out Box.

The world the flesh and the devil

rbl The issue of the month was (perhaps) that RBL is moving behind a paywall. Since RBL has been a striking (often wonderful, occasionally frustrating – especially when stronger editing was needed, perhaps refusing some reviews) pioneering example of open scholarship, this move causes some raised eyebrows (listed in the order they seem to have appeared, or at least that I noticed them):

Two things seem worth noting here about this excitement, one is the presence of non-Western and non-Anglophone voices raised in protest (perhaps those with well-paying posts in Western academia do not feel the need of such open scholarship as sharply as the rest of the world), and the other is that as far as I can see the whole thing was over within a few days. We (the people of Biblical Blogaria)8 seem not to care too much when another example of the privatisation of scholarship is conducted, in our name, by a “scholarly society” many of us belong to, all for reasons of “business model”.

The issue had a particular poignancy for me as I heard the news within days of hearing that The Book of the Twelve and the New Form Criticism, had appeared in Ancient Near East Monographs as an open access publication by SBL with my chapter “The Book of Amos as ‘Prophetic Fiction’: Describing the Genre of a Written Work that Reinvigorates Older Oral Speech Forms” better grab your PDF copy now while it remains free and at large!9

Still the dream of a free open review site is not dead, Reviews of Biblical and Early Christian Studies is still free, still open, and still publishing.

Meanwhile the quiet overlooking of women in the biblical studies scholarly scene was the subject of Liv Lied (Religion – Mansucripts – Media Culture) post Who is reviewed at the SBL Annual Meeting?abraham-lincoln-716182_640

Although the Biblical Studies Carnival is10 a global phenomenon we cannot let the politics of the Imperial power pass without comment but perhaps Sarah Rollens (Marginalia Review Blog) piece on Donald Trump’s “love” of the Bible and his popularity among US evangelicals Donald Trump’s Bible may be sufficient mention.

Questions around homosexuality and biblical attitudes have been important again especially as US Anglicans were given a rap over the knuckles by the global primates meeting. One of the more interesting “takes” on these events came in a new to me blog by Esau D. McCauley Blaming the Africans: Cultural Imperialism and the Meeting of the Primates (HT ξἐνος)

Drew Longacre warns us against getting sucked into the whirlpool of genealogies and chronologies in Genealogies, Chronologies, and Calendars… Oh, My!

Serial posting

Loren Rosson alias TheBusybody showed that series posting is not dead with a trilogy of posts on Holy War covering the concept in the three best known monotheistic religions:

  1. Holy War in Islam: Historical Origins
  2. Holy War in Judaism: The Fall and Rise of a Controversial Idea
  3. Holy War in Christianity: The Birth and Death of a Paradox

He also posted “John Meier is the George Martin of biblical studies” commenting on another long-running series: A Marginal Jew, Volume 5: Probing the Authenticity of the Parables.

While David Gowler offered a four-part series on Tolstoy’s 1885 short story, “Where Love Is, God Is”, and its use of the parable of the sheep and the goats:

Ben Witherington Ill11 has a series on Childs’ attempts to understand Isaiah as Christian Scripture:

Why! I think BWIII is trying to beat my record of (so far) 30 posts in my Humour in the Bible series at 5 minute Bible (Book 30 was Amos ; )

Richard Beck has a series on Barclay’s book Paul & the Gift (which is clearly, see below twice, biblical studies book of the month for January):

Phillip J. Long at Reading Acts has been writing a lengthy series on Jewish Christian Literature starting on 18th by Introducing Jewish Christian Literature and arriving after four other posts at Hebrews and the Shame of Suffering by 27th.

Though not at all itself a serial post Jonathan Robinson (gleefully?) points to as a Scholarly Bunfight Brewing Over Peter which has perhaps the makings of some serial posting?

Real (virtual) resources

It has also been a fine month for those digitisers who tirelessly work to make intellectual property more widely available with Rob Bradshaw announcing (on Facebook)12 that Theology on the Web now hosts over 32,000 theological books and articles – free for educational use! The equally completely industrious and totally not defatigable Jim West had earlier noted the announcement that the John Richard Allison Library has now made available their entire rare Puritan collection to be read online for free. Many of the works were digitized from J. I. Packer’s private library.

On the subject of intellectual heritage, the antiquities trade (insofar as it deals in objects that were not uncovered in a reputable dig or provenanced in some other reputable way) seems to encourage an increasing destruction of human intellectual heritage. However, if one journalist’s investigations are right the Islamic terrorists are not (as yet) profiting significantly from their destructive activities.

Steven Anderson has a post like a Bible Dictionary entry on The Urim and the Thummim which could be handy to point to when students want more…

Archaeology is not (perhaps) as daft as people think

Just when it seems there are only three sorts of Archaeology, the money-makers (who have the TV serial and the book contract in place even if they have nothing but puff and nonsense to sell), the summer holiday archaeologists13 ones who descend on the Near East14 with hordes of students and other hopefuls in toe to do the digging and hopefully discover a text that mentions one of David’s descendants, and the ones who write those fascinating studies of surveys of ancient rubbish tips which give us our most likely glimpse into real life in ancient times. When along comes someone who tells us that studying cosmic rays inside an Egyptian pyramid will reveal interesting truths long hidden, only (this time) they are apparently gen-u-ine scientists, with real cosmic ray guns/sensors…

Jim Davila pointed to J Fletcher’s Where are the Temple treasures? A post that must be kosher, after all Jim knows all about the Jewish tree new year.15

Podcasting

Marginalia presented an interview by Joseph Ryan Kelly of Roland Boer about Boer’s book The Sacred Economy of Ancient Israel (Westminster John Knox, 2015). First Impressions #68: Roland Boer on the Sacred Economy of Ancient Israel.

The interview with John M. G. Barclay on Paul and the Gift in the Eerdmans Author Interview Series on YouTube. Jackson Wu (see below) offers a reflection on this book from an honour-shame perspective.

Nijay Gupta pointed to Matt Bates and Matt Lynch’s podcast OnScript with Josh Jipp interviewed about his book, Christ is King: Paul’s Royal Ideology.

fight-club-movie-poster-1020270798If you have ever wondered “What have the Book of Genesis and the movie Fight Club got to do with GDP?” The BBC16 Analysis program presented Tomas Sedlacek: The Economics of Good and Evil providing an answer.

At 5 minute Bible I have been trespassing into the NT, with another in a series of brief17 introductions to Bible books, this time Mark’s Gospel. Perhaps the series could be useful to students you know/teach. Comments and critique by NT scholars would be especially welcomed.

I came across William Arnal’s talk “Just how ‘Christian’ were the first Christians?” with reference to the Gospels of Thomas and Mark through Deane’s mention of it at Biblical Studies Online (a useful compendium of such material). Others he has noted this month include: Helen Bond on Simon of Cyrene and a longer note on Joel Kaminsky on whether the Book of Job sweeps away a mechanistic concept of divine retribution and Adela Yarbro Collins on Scripture and Women in Revelation.

James McGrath posted about an interesting looking podcast interview he has done, sadly the ‘cast is only a freebie to suck you in to a never ending whirl of Gnostic wisdom, or a one off payment of the price of a paperback codex for just more of James’ own wisdom.18

Calls for Papers

Those who have read this far deserve a reward, and nothing19 rewards a scholar more than the opportunity to inspire/mildly interest/bore colleagues with a “publication”, and conference papers inevitably20 become publications. Here are the calls for papers I am aware of from January 2016 (if you know of more please tell me and I will add a mention):21

Going all apocalyptic on us

vampirehunterJames Tabor finds interesting thoughts in Albert Schweitzer and a Thoroughly Apocalyptic Jesus (and Paul), while Jim West wanted us to take “a field trip to Megiddo, the site of the last battle between the forces of heaven and the forces of evil“, as well as taking a trip himself to Hong Kong and posting the usual 99,000 snippets grave and gay.22 Hector Avalos (Debunking Christianity) in Patterns of poor research – A Critique of Patterns of Evidence:Exodus takes the work of US Televangelists more seriously than most sensible people can stand.

Steve Wiggins has to get a mention so that I can say he blogs at Sects and Violence in the Ancient World, among several possible candidates my eye fell What you pay for, a post about Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter, surely demonstrating that the said Jesus was the inspiration for America’s favourite president (before the present incumbent).

Image from Deane's last post (this month) in the series Mythical Documents from the Ancient World.

Image from Deane’s last post (this month) in the series Mythical Documents from the Ancient World.

Having promised to stop posting about the Nephilim,23 Deane Galbraith turned to cyphers and imaginary ancient texts in With Or Without Q: From MwQH to M+≈QH?

A made up photo that accompanied the discussion of a made up document.

A made up photo that accompanied the discussion of a made up document.

Yes, it seems an imaginary ancient text really has replaced imaginary giants in Deane’s affections, breaking news L/M with Q: A Post-Farrer and Post-Two Documents Approach to Synoptic Composition. The imaginary lost document is however so much fun see Luke knew Matthew, But still Q (L/MwQ): A Post-Farrer and Post-Two Documents Approach to Synoptic Composition and the attached photos, that we can confidently expect that Q has finally disposed of the giants!24

Also concerned with Angels and demons, watchers and giants Jim Davila wonders how Lesli White (a scholarly editor for Beliefnet.com)25 can miss considering the Enochic traditions in her treatment of angels and demons.26

Preaching the Bible

The carnival is not about Bible preaching, but since almost everyone comes to Biblical Studies27 because of their faith and the belief that the Bible (whether Jewish or Christian) is in some sense authoritative Scripture it seems fair and right to point to examples of blogs concerned with preaching from these texts.

Paul Windsor (Art of Unpacking) is more concerned with teaching the art of preaching in the Majority World. Jackson Wu offers more directly biblical reflection geared at helping us see the deep roots of the Bible in an honour-shame view of the world, quite different from contemporary Western views, his comments The Meaning of God’s Grace on Barclay’s book is an example this month. For a non-Westerner’s view of Western religion and Bible reading Vinoth Ramachandra’s blog is always worth reading, though often less than comforting as he efficiently but usually kindly exposes the hypocrisy Western Christians often fail to recognise.

Other posts that caught my fancy28

Ryan Thomas at Religion and Literature of Ancient Palestine has a Review of Thomas Römer, The Invention of God (2015) both Römer‘s theses and Thomas’ critiques are really interesting. For me Römer’s conclusions are a reminder of how much historical reconstruction in our discipline depends on our evaluation of particular (aspects of) biblical texts as historical sources, and therefore why I tend towards agnosticism29 about history in this sense. (Ryan posts rarely, and seems to be using his blog almost like Academia.edu, an earlier post had 80 footnotes.30

Manuel Rojas was all caught up in Fee’s approach to the translation of ἁρπάζω in his “Las agendas teológicas: viendo pajas en ojos ajenos

Homework

Bob MacDonald has been puzzling about the use of ‘elohim sometimes with and sometimes without the sign of definiteness (ha’elohim). Sometimes the difference seems significant (e.g. where ha’elohim suggests the form is the singular ‘elohim whom Israel worships), but on other occasions choice of form seems less directed. Is anyone able to provide some input on this simple aspect of ‘elohim?

Larry Hurtado posted a reprise of his discussion of Christians and codexes in Christians and the Codex: Encore!31 he makes some really good sharp points, some of which cause me to reevaluate some things I have written in the past. However, I am unconvinced by his conclusion. What do you think? Did early Christians prefer the codex in order to mark themselves as different?

Postscripta

PS: This post is not early! It is set to go live at midnight in the early hours of 1st Feb 2016, to all you people in more backward parts of the planet, just catch up will you!

PPS: Bizarrely, I have been listed during most of January as among the “top 4%” of researchers on Academia.edu, I am not sure why this is, but am relying on you all clicking this link to check whether that is true and so, either boosting my bogus statistic further, or better still finding something I have written that interests you, after all, interesting people are why we do this job ;)

PPPS: If you searched for your name and missed yourself please look again manually as I probably either forgot to name you or spelt your name wrongly32 or perhaps I really did leave you out :(33

And finally, back to the future

The next few carnivals will be:

But Phil Long is looking for volunteers for the rest of the year (after May) and would delight in YOU stepping up, it’s quite a bit of work, but a good excuse to investigate biblical blogging more widely than usual, and grauanteed to give your blog a boost of visitors, and greater Google mojo, what greater reward could you ask?

  1. I say this month’s carnival because I am publishing it at either 0:00 on the 1st of February (though I believe 0:01 is the traditional timing) so that it is also published at 12:00 on the 31st January, since this later date is the 12th blogiversary of Sansblogue, a nice way to celebrate an auspicious occasion! Anyone who is suspicious may consult the first post here, the last post has yet to sound ;) []
  2. 120 seemed too high a number to me, so I looked back at the list of carnivals past, some are now mere ghosts, existing only in the Wayback Machine, others like my two previous efforts still exist at the same URL, some no doubt have moved… but since the first carnival was held in 2005 and 2006 (the idea was slow to get off the ground till Tyler Williams put his shoulder to the wheels) it seems correct, but then Sansblogue’s twelfth birthday occurred this month! []
  3. In loving memory of all those American and Germanic monographs we have known and loved, except for the bit where we have to find endnotes at the back of each separate chapter. At least here there are convenient hyperlinks :) []
  4. Great name! []
  5. Taking place at somewhere called NOBTS. []
  6. Whilst I tend to agree with the author’s assessment of the contemporary relevance of these prophets, W. Travis McMaken looks suspiciously like yet another White American Male Protestant, so the post is clearly disqualified! []
  7. Footnote added post scriptum: I confess I had not noticed that this is Caroline T. Schroeder’s blog, until she pointed it out, my excuse is that early monasticism has never been a major theme of my work. []
  8. Who are after all despite the “digital revolution” still predominantly White Western non-Woman – is that why they call it the WWW? []
  9. Since Academia.edu informs me that this month I am among the top 5% globally clearly such open scholarship does have some benefits! []
  10. In theory, if not in fact. See my moans about the lack of non-White-American-Male nominations as evidence. []
  11. Is his surname really “Ill”, and if so what made his ancestor sick? []
  12. Am I allowed to mention Facebook here in the BS Blog Carnival? []
  13. Though usually not at this time of year, only coming out in the American summer, not the real one over and after New Year. []
  14. Who is it near? And for whom is it east? []
  15. Joel Hoffman also offers explanations in So What, Exactly, is Tu Bishvat? []
  16. That embattled bastion of British Imperialism and the dream of honest fair reporting. []
  17. About 300 seconds. Duh! The name says it all, pace Juliet. []
  18. Seriously, the $1/podcast approach is an interestimng experiment in crowd funding the production of such resources! []
  19. Well nothing much in the realm of professional activity anyway! []
  20. After months of hard work on Facebook and other timewasters and a few tough days of actual research and writing. []
  21. This promise is exclusive to this category, any normal (or abnormal) posts outside this category have already been cast into outer darkness. Sorry I missed you, but make sure to announce your genius to the organiser of future carnivals. []
  22. Or to remove the allusion to Karl Barth, depravity and biblical studies. []
  23. In the process linking all sorts of strange, if not wonderful, things. []
  24. PS all the rude remarks about Q above are entirely my own fault, and none of the authors cited, nor even Mark Goodarce who is otherwise, sadly, absent from this carnival, should blamed for my scepticism or Philistine response to NT scholars imaginative creations. []
  25. I say she is a “scholarly editor” because her article links to such scholarly material as “This Article Is About To Get Banned From The Internet!”, “‘Fat Hormone’ Stops Women From Losing Weight”, and “Weird Trick To Make Women Obsess Over You”. Links removed to protect the gullible. In view of the obviously high quality of Beliefnet I can quite understand Jim’s horror at their editor’s ignorance of basic biblical studies. []
  26. Clearly a topic where fools rush in where Others fear to tread! []
  27. Wherever their path has since led them. []
  28. Well, what else could I call it? []
  29. Note the VERY small “a”. []
  30. This post only had 31. His are of the proper referencing sort, not whimsical ones like these. Still I have 32 [ed: insert pic of thumb to nose here please.] []
  31. Based on his earlier: The Codex and Early Christians: Clarification & Corrections. []
  32. People do that to me all the time, the worst was a letter to my father addressed to Mr Balcony, this was in the age before spell-checkers. []
  33. If I did it intends no reflection on the quality or readability of your work, just the fact that you are not really into self promotion and did not send me a nomination. []

Guerilla Bible

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The battle is over, modernity won, but guerilla Bible readers still fight back.

the_empire_strikes_back_final_by_1darthvader-d45d5p6The battle for the Bible was over before war was even declared. Modernity won the battle, and people today (both Christians and Atheists) read Scripture using modern categories and methods. It is a history book, a manual, a book of poetry, full of myths and legends… all categories modernity imposed on Bible readers.

But there is another way, guerilla reading. Reading the Bible as it was meant to be read. The Bible is God’s love letter to humanity. Along the way it tells the story of his dealings with a chosen people, his entry into human life in the child born at Christmas, his death on the cross and triumphant rising to new life as the Spirit of God filled the church…

This series will teach you to read the Bible as it was meant to be read, to discover God through the ancient words of Scripture and to apply that knowledge today.

If you have read this far how does this sound as the sales pitch for a simple how-to series on reading the Bible? Does it claim too much? Is it too warlike? Or just fun?

Eucharist: when Fundamentalists fail to read Scripture literally

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I love old hymns. They are so often full of such deep theology.  I love the eucharist, I need the grace that this sacrament transmits. A couple of us had a stimulating Facebook conversation about the riches of those old hymns. For me “old” here means before the invention of printing, not the 18th and 19th centuries ;)  I said in passing that two of my all-time favourites are Thomas Aquinas’ “Pange Lingua” and Fortunatus’ hymn of the same name – perhaps it is no accident that they start with the same exhortation Aquinas seems to have shared my delight in Fortunatus’ fine hymn. My liking for Aquinas hymn, though, shocked my interlocutor, unused (as they were) to high-church Baptists.

Actually I am more shocked by all those low-church Baptists, who persist in praying lengthily over the bread and wine carefully informing God, and through him the assembled people, that whatever Jesus may have meant by the simple words “this is my body given for you” he did not mean them to be taken seriously, let alone literally.

It’s funny how these words, so important in our regular celebration of the story of Jesus (I’d say “worship” but today worship means singing I’m told), are read paradoxically differently by “Fundamentalists” and Catholics. Catholics read the Bible (at least these words) over-literally. For it seems quite clear to me that, whatever Jesus meant, he did not intend to be understood literally. Just imagine his disciples’ reactions: “But the law forbids us to consume blood!” (Lev 17:14) On the other hand for my Fundamentalist friends, not only did Jesus not mean these words literally (however keen they would be to read other words – like the “days” in Gen 1 – literally), he hardly meant them at all! (Though for such low Baptists Jesus words about remembering seem for some reason to be less overlooked. Perhaps because they hold to the doctrine of the real absence of the risen Christ they are keen that communion should remember Jesus’ death.)

“This is my body, broken for you.” surely means, in some sense (though not a literal one), that the bread of the eucharist is the broken body of the Son of God who died for us. If we can believe in two-a-penny miracles, like healings and gems or gold teeth from heaven, what is so hard about the promise of the real presence of Jesus in the bread of the Lord’s Supper?

Excluding people from the Church

Photo by unaesthetic

food-23453_1280A couple of issues recently have raised the question of when and why Christians might exclude others from the Church.

One issue arose when I was to address a combined churches group (in an overseas context) and one or two influential people looked at my 5 minute Bible site and (as far as I can tell without actually listening to the “offending” podcast) decided that I sounded as if I might deny the (according to their understanding) biblical truth that hell is a place of eternal horrible punishment. If true, this for them would exclude me from speaking in such a setting. So, is denying the doctrine that hell is eternal horrible punishment, or alternatively holding that view, a good and proper reason to exclude someone from the Church? I can understand that either might be sufficient reason for someone to cease to have desire to fellowship with the person who holds the view. But should that lack of desire for fellowship translate into exclusion for Church?

The other issue concerns attitudes to homosexuality, and in particular to the marrying of homosexual couples, some among NZ Baptists today certainly see a difference of opinion on this issue as grounds for exclusion from the fellowship of NZ Baptist churches, if perhaps not from the Church.

In both cases the potential excluder sees the issue as the “offender” being unfaithful to Scripture. In both cases the “offender” claims that their understanding of Scripture is different. In one case the disagreement is around the meaning of words and whether certain phrases are to be understood as literal or metaphorical, in the other case (while this sort of issue is in play) the main issue is more around the relative priority of different aspects of the teaching of Scripture and ways our social setting differs from the original contexts of Scripture.

My take is that neither issue is sufficient grounds for exclusion from the Church, and that the second (at least) ought not to be grounds for exclusion from the fellowship of Baptist churches in NZ. So, what sort of issue might give such grounds?

Asking the question in reverse, i.e. on what grounds do we include people in the fellowship of the church. We include people in the fellowship of communion, very commonly in NZ Baptist churches, by an invitation like “those who love the Lord Jesus Christ and seek to be his true disciples”. If that is sufficient grounds for inclusion in Communion, why is it not sufficient grounds for inclusion in the Church? Or what is the Church except the community of those who share communion in Christ?

I also wonder what Paul, in the light of his comments about the relative merits of theological truth and salvation, in relation to the issue of food offered to idols (1 Cor 8, esp. vv.1-2), would say.

Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy

"Starsinthesky" by ESA/Hubble. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Starsinthesky.jpg#/media/File:Starsinthesky.jpg
"Starsinthesky" by ESA/Hubble. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Starsinthesky.jpg#/media/File:Starsinthesky.jpg (edited)

“Starsinthesky” by ESA/Hubble. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Starsinthesky.jpg#/media/File:Starsinthesky.jpg (edited)

I confess, I have never really read the famous “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy”, the idea of defining the authority of Scripture in terms of lack of error in propositional statements strikes me as so wrong headed that I have never been really tempted to start. However a friend on Facebook showed me a post that linked to a copy of the statement.

Now I’m really puzzled. Article 12 reads:

Article XII.

WE AFFIRM that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.
WE DENY that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

The first part of “WE DENY” seems to claim that the Bible (regardless of the intentions of its human authors?) can be used to learn about scientific questions – I assume this means things like the age of the universe/earth, how species came to be etc… and not that somewhere in Scripture Boyles Law is taught.

OK… but the second part seems to claim that whatever Science may with high degree of confidence assert cannot be used to “overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood”. Which seems to imply that those passages of the Bible that teach about creation and flood are exempt from the first statement?

Is there (even a twisted sort of) logic here, or is the statement just daft? In either case why do so many American, and American influenced, religious people find the statement helpful?

Please, these are serious questions and I just do not understand, so help me!

How odd of God, or the LORD works in mysterious ways

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Photo by Jim Legans, Jr

Photo by Jim Legans, Jr

Offering a course, and preparing the material and then having no students enroll is not an outcome any teacher desires.Add in the bonus that the course was being offered is about 19h and 55mins from home, and the situation seems set to categorise as a disaster. However, that would neglect events around the time when we were waiting on tenterhooks to see if students would enroll. During the waiting the prospect of a series for Swarga (a local Christian TV station) began to be seriously aired. The series will use the material I prepared for the NZ Baptist articles each month in 2014. This is material I am really keen to make more accessible and useful in church contexts. By shrinking our holiday a little and with hasty preparation while Barbara (she has a chock full class) I should be able to record six half hour programs before we leave.

In conversation with the principal and the academic dean today another project has been added for after I return to NZ. I will prepare an enlarged version of the articles with more practical examples and fuller explanations which people here will take and adapt to the local context. This localised English version could also be translated into Sinhala and Tamil. The material would then form a basis for introductory courses in practical hermeneutics for some of the programs here. This too is so exciting.

The LORD does indeed work in mysterious ways, and from time to time enlivens our staid lives with rollercoaster rides.

Reading the Bible Faithfully (as seen on TV?)

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book-623163Well this has been a roller-coaster of a 24hr day.

First it seemed that 1 Samuel and the delights of biblical story-telling were so unattractive, or I am, that there might be no students for my class (the journey is worth it though, as Barbara has a big class for her teaching about dealing with adolescents – I guess some human issues are really cross-cultural in this globally franchised world). Then there was the possibility of doing a series for Swarga TV using the Reading the Bible Faithfully material.

That is a possibility that really excites me! Encouraging people to read the Scriptures well, faithfully to the ancient meaning, yet attentive to contemporary application is fun and rewarding. To do it via TV and video with a professional crew, lighting, two cameras etc. is a dream (possibly) coming true! That it seems likely that they would be willing to either let me use the video or to make it accessible online, opens possibilities of it being useful in NZ as well.

So when, this morning under the monsoon rain, it became final that there were no students interested in 1 Samuel, the rest of today was spent preparing the first few sessions. This evening an email came to say that the studio is fully booked while I am in Colombo, but that there is a day free when we are meant to be at the beach. (Enjoying a few days rest before heading home, in a plush resort no less!)

Barbara understands how much this project means to me, so she is willing to curtail our restful time on the beach… so, currently the plan is to spend Mon 21st trying to record 12 sessions of 22 mins each. All before heading south in the middle of the afternoon… Please if you are the praying sort (as they say, but really – as they also say – “there are no atheists in foxholes”, in extremity prayer comes naturally to us all) please ask that somehow this may all work for the best!

Boosting literacy by 1000%

Traces of the 16 and 12 characters of the two Wadi el-Hol inscriptions (Wikipedia)
Traces of the 16 and 12 characters of the two Wadi el-Hol inscriptions (Wikipedia)

Traces of the 16 and 12 characters of the two Wadi el-Hol inscriptions (Wikipedia)

Five years ago I linked to a post by Chris Rollston The Probable Inventors of the First Alphabet:Semites Functioning as rather High Status Personnel in a Component of the Egyptian Apparatus the URL has changed,but the post is really interesting. I still have no desire to differ from Chris’ expert view his “story” is fascinating and largely convincing. Yet I still think he misrepresents the impact of his evidence on the rise of literacy due to the invention of the alphabet. One quote highlights the issue, and in it Rollston highlights some earlier silly claims:

Some have suggested that with the invention of the alphabet, literacy rates rapidly became quite high, with both elites and non-elites writing and reading (note: these two skills are related, but quite different). For example, during the middle of the twentieth century, W.F. Albright stated that “since the forms of the letters are very simple, the 22-letter alphabet could be learned in a day or two by a bright student and in a week or two by the dullest.” And he proceeded to affirm that he did “not doubt for a moment that there were many urchins in various parts of Palestine who could read and write as early as the time of the Judges” (Albright 1960, 123). At the beginning of the twenty-first century, R. Hess made similar statements. For example, regarding ancient Israel, he states that there is “continually increasing evidence for a wide variety of people from all walks of life who could read and write.” In addition, he states that he believes “the whole picture is consistent with a variety of [literate] classes and groups, not merely a few elites” (Hess 2006, passim 342-345).

But the literacy estimates Rollston quotes show that for prealphabetic societies literacy rates were about 1%:

for Egypt, literacy rates are often estimated to be at ca. one-percent or lower, and confined to elites (see Baines and Eyre,1983, 65-96; note that even at Deir el-Medina it is elites that are writing). For Mesopotamia, Larsen believes that one-percent is also a reasonable figure (see Larsen, 1989, 121-148, esp. 134).

Yet for societies using alphabetic scripts the estimates he quotes are between five and fifteen percent:

Rather, the evidence suggests that the vast majority of the population was not literate. Note, for example, that W. Harris (1989, 114, 267, 22) has argued that literacy rates in Attica were probably ca. five percent to ten percent and those in Italy were probably below fifteen percent (note: within this volume [passim], Harris has cogently critiqued those that have proposed high(er) rates of literacy).

Taking, as an approximation, the middle of this range, the move from Cuneiform or Hieroglyphic may have merely increased literacy by a factor of ten, from 1% to 10%. This is an increase in literacy of 1000%, an imporessive achievement.  An increase in literacy levels this dramatic, or even at the lowest level Rollston’s figures suggest (half this increase or a factor of five or 500%), is quite high enough to produce exciting social consequences.

At 1% literacy few rural people would have easy access to someone who was literate, at 10% it is likely that within a few hours walk most would. Thus his own figures suggest that the alphabet would produce a true social revolution. Clearly not producing a modern writing based culture, but nevertheless bringing text and textuality into the realm of experience of ordinary people as well as elites.

Good Gossip? (Women from the Bible #1)

Old_Ladies

On Facebook Robyn Mellar-Smith responding to Lindy Jacomb’s guest post at Sacraparental promised to post about a woman from the Bible every day for a week. I doubt I’ll manage that, we are finishing teaching and beginning traveling…

But one of my favourite unsung heroes from the gospels is Anna, after the two old folk have seen the baby Jesus, their responses could hardly be more different.

Simeon gets all poetic and sings a song about being so happy he could die happy, Anna tells all her friends the good news (Luke 2:22-38)

29 Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.
Luke 2:29-32

While dear Anna simply tells all her friends and family the good news….

36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Luke 2:36-38

There is a sermon here, folks :)

PS: How delicious and ironic (at the same time) I had not read Lindy’s post that started the series when I dashed off the note above (I finish teaching the intensive tomorrow and was preaching in college chapel today…) but when I did I discovered she had chosen my friend Anna to mention in her post!