In an excellent post on the Aussie BS blog Mike Bird provides a neat helpful brief summary of things people need to recognise about the Bible. The post should be helpful for both believers and unbelievers alike, potentially dispelling ignorance and superstition in both camps ;).
His number six offers an interesting take on the Conservative-Liberal party divide. Mike’s approach helpfully sidesteps the shibboleths of inerrancy and infallibility with their focus on questions of facticity, and suggests in their place talk of Scripture as normative. So far so normal, and indeed to speak of Scripture as normative does more than proclaim its authority, it protects the Protestant standard of core or central authority.
What interests me though, is Mike’s other pole: negotiable. As Mike uses it, to speak of Scripture as “negotiable” means that it is merely “a human word about God to be selectively utilised insofar as it enables us to speak a transcendent word to our native context”. Indeed in a Facebook conversation the term becomes more clearly polemic:
…my idea of “negotiate” is not the complex hermeneutical reflection needed for proper application and obedience; rather, my concern is with a blaise dismissal of a text since it points away from values of the progressive tribe. For case in point, Paul was a sexist homophobic bigot, who cares what he thinks, stuff like that.
If your goal this is to distinguish “us” and “them” – at least if “us” is the Conservative wing of some denomination this understanding works really well. However, inherent (if sadly not inerrant) Middle-of-the-roadist that I am, I cannot avoid the thought that “negotiation” is precisely what Scripture, understood as both Mike and I both understand it (see his points 1-5 and 7) demands.
The Bible, or rather any part of the Bible that is currently in front of us and under discussion, requires negotiation. It needs to be brought from being merely an ancient text that is often metaphorical or emotionally non-literal that was written to and for people in very different circumstances than ours to being a word for today. Without negotiation, that is without a careful; conversation about the nature of the ancient message and the world to which it applied, and how that ancient message translates into today, without such negotiation application is merely your word against mine – all interpretations are valid and Scripture means nothing and has no authority.
For the Bible (and not merely its interpreter) to be normative Scripture requires negotiation. From where I sit, uncomfortably and dangerously, in the middle of the road, both the Conservatives and the Liberals in their such different ways reduce the Bible to an icon.1
For Scripture to be normative it must be negotiated. When it is both negotiated and normative then like John Robinson in his address to the Pilgrims:
I am verily persuaded the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of His Holy Word.
By this I mean a symbol to inspire allegiance, but with no real authority, the Conservatives delivering ultimate authority to those they recognise as inspired interpreters, and the Liberals doing the same but being perhaps more likely to claim that the speaker themself is among that blessed company. [↩]
I was grabbed by a question Derek Tovey asked on Facebook. He’s been reading the blurb to Peeter’s edition of Elizabeth B. Tracy, See Me! Hear Me!, Contributions to biblical exegesis and theology 75 (Leuven: Peeters, 2015). The blurb begins with an (unreferenced) quote from Fokkelmann: “The Bible does not contain one single instance of small talk.” Derek asked: “Is he right? Can you find an example of small talk in the Bible?” I think he is and I can’t, can you?
There is banter in the Bible, not least banter between strangers – the case of Jesus and the woman at Sychar (John 4) is a strong example. There are examples of a host’s gracious welcome – Abraham and the three men offers a classic example (Genesis 18). But no “small talk” (which I understand to mean polite by trivial or meaningless talk to oil the wheels of social interaction).
This seems to me not unexpected, I can’t think (though please let me know that I am wrong) of examples of small talk in literature before the modern period, and even then the earliest examples I think of are from Shakespeare (and I think drama works differently from prose narrative).
More than that though biblical narrative is well-known to be parsimonious with unnessary detail of all sorts. Descriptions are almost only given when some detail advances the plot, or characterisation, in significant ways. Indeed, often the silences and omissions are meaningful, “fraught with background” in Auerbach’s redolent phrase.
Fokkelmann, however approached the question differently. The quote comes from his introductory textbook and his concern is with the way characters’ speech is “existentially revealing”.
The other speeches in our pilot story show that the character’s text not only contains many forms of the present tense, but often also commands and wishes. This means that speech is often about the imminent future, and this is something the narrator himself can never manage. Characters may say that they want to have this or that, or want this or that to be done in such-and-such a way. Speeches are often excited or dramatic.The Bible does not contain one single instance of small talk; almost every word by a character is existentially revealing or rooted: the speaker is totally committed to the matter under discussion.1
This notion of speech in biblical narrative as “existentially revealing” is (I think) much more interesting than mere parsimony!
Jan Fokkelman, Reading Biblical Narrative : An Introduction Guide (Louisville Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999) 68. [↩]
It’s not yet launched (coming Thursday US time, Friday here) yet from what I’ve heard and seen The Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance could be an answer for people looking for a decent, fun game for kids (and the young at heart?) that inculcates Christian values and the gospel message it cannot be worse than most of the “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho” type nonsense that is usually marketed as “Christian”!
Recently my Facebook feed has repeatedly presented me with cartoon pictures that echo the apocalyptic imagery of Revelation, and apply that thinking to the rise and rise of Donald Trump on the US political scene. It is interesting how in even such a determinedly “secular” culture as NZ this biblical imagery still has power beyond the church.
However, some of the best sense I have read recently about Trump and Christians comes from Paul Windsor. In trump – again?! my Kiwi-American-Indian ex-boss neatly explains much of what most needs to be said about reading Revelation in the West, and about the unrecognised and so unacknowledged syncretism that continually trips us up. His scalpel is directed in this post at US Christians, but the message is for all. We build our belief systems, and so our lives, not only on the solid rock of the gospel but also on the shifting sand of the cultures we inhabit (and that possess us).
Back since before we produced PodBible1 I have been concerned with falling rates of Bible reading among Christians in the Western World.
Among the churches I have most contact with, NZ Baptist and occasionally other Charismatic and/or Evangelical churches, there has also been a slow but marked decline in the public reading of Scripture. Often now I can attend a 90-120 minute service of which less than 1% is spent reading the Bible, and it is never normally over 10% (including the sermon, where sometimes only a collection of small fragments is actually read and not merely referenced).
Yet, it is precisely in these churches, where our faith and practice are founded and built on Scripture.
That’s the first point: We read Scripture less, yet we claim it is the basis for our faith – we have a problem!
Now something that seems, at first brush, unrelated. I record (among other things) readings of children’s stories. Recently different people, referencing different ages of child, have mentioned that the Beatrix Potter stories are preferred over Winnie-the-Pooh. The reason given is that Potter’s are illustrated and so the child has a video to watch, while Pooh is just audio. This makes a priori sense since children get to see so much video today, and recent children’s books are usually illustrated with copious colour images, where a generation ago only a few line drawings often sufficed.
For me, this recognition was confirmed by the experience of reading Paddington Bear to my grandson. At 5 and a bit, he is a good reader, enjoys reading and also loves having stories read to him. He had watched several episodes of a video version of Paddington (not true video but like my Beatrix Potter produced zooming and panning over simple colour images). He was “getting” the humour and chuckling away. So, later that day I got out the copy of a Paddington omnibus edition we used to read to our children. I was only a couple of pages into the first story, when he complained: “Where are the pictures?” I showed him the few line drawings, and he chose another book to have read.
The rising generations2 are simply less able to enjoy aniconic stories.
We have a second problem to compound the first: We are becoming less interested in, and even less able to ‘read’ aniconic stories.
There have been attempts to address this. As well as the ‘biblical’ blockbusters, which attempt to ‘retell’ the Bible stories as engaging cinema, people have produced visual Bibles (or at least episodes or whole books from the Bible). Some are extremely expensive and use the full range of the actor’s and videographer’s crafts (notable among these are the Jesus Film3 and the project known as The Visual Bible).4 Distant Shores Open Bible Stories has gone the opposite route and used a crowd-sourced open and free approach.
There is however a significant issue with such visualisations, the biblical text is inherently aniconic, not only is the text itself consistently unimaged (at least for the first many centuries of its transmission) but beyond that we have very few indeed pictures of its characters from their own lifetimes. Most of those are foreigners on the periphery of the story, none of the major characters was5 imaged in from life.
If the ‘visual Bible’ approach is fraught with theological and practical difficulties, are there other approaches to cope with these issues?
Even if small children are more resistant to stories without pictures, most become capable of attending to such stories, and many learn to love them. Reading the Bible aloud in church is more, and not less, vital than it was in less visual times.
Children seem more able to concentrate in the absence of images when other stimuli are reduced (e.g. listening to stories through earphones on car journeys or to an adult reading in a darkened room). Perhaps, in church, we could dim the lights for the reading of Scripture!
This post is very much an exploratory musing, so (if you have the attention span to have read this far ;) do please contribute to my thinking by voicing concerns, ideas, hopes, … in the comments!
The idea for PodBible was stimulated by a desire to help a generation who read little, but listened to MP3s a lot, to “read” the Bible. [↩]
Remember this process did not begin with ubiquitous video on phones, but broadcast video on TV, or even earlier with film, photography and printing advances making images cheaper and very much more widespread, already a century ago before my father’s birth! [↩]
Not quite a visual Bible, but closely based on Luke’s gospel. [↩]
Which perhaps in ways not unrelated to the amounts of money involved has been mired in controversy and strife. [↩]
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”.
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.
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…
If 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.
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
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.
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.
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
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?
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
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?
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 ;) [↩]
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! [↩]
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 :) [↩]
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! [↩]
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. [↩]
Who are after all despite the “digital revolution” still predominantly White Western non-Woman – is that why they call it the WWW? [↩]
Since Academia.edu informs me that this month I am among the top 5% globally clearly such open scholarship does have some benefits! [↩]
In theory, if not in fact. See my moans about the lack of non-White-American-Male nominations as evidence. [↩]
Is his surname really “Ill”, and if so what made his ancestor sick? [↩]
Am I allowed to mention Facebook here in the BS Blog Carnival? [↩]
Though usually not at this time of year, only coming out in the American summer, not the real one over and after New Year. [↩]
That embattled bastion of British Imperialism and the dream of honest fair reporting. [↩]
About 300 seconds. Duh! The name says it all, pace Juliet. [↩]
Seriously, the $1/podcast approach is an interestimng experiment in crowd funding the production of such resources! [↩]
Well nothing much in the realm of professional activity anyway! [↩]
After months of hard work on Facebook and other timewasters and a few tough days of actual research and writing. [↩]
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. [↩]
Or to remove the allusion to Karl Barth, depravity and biblical studies. [↩]
In the process linking all sorts of strange, if not wonderful, things. [↩]
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. [↩]
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. [↩]
Clearly a topic where fools rush in where Others fear to tread! [↩]
The battle is over, modernity won, but guerilla Bible readers still fight back.
The 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?
A 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.
Well 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!
Our visit to the Baldwins was a great experience. It’s a small town, off the tourist trails, mainly serving the rural sector. The nearest “attraction” is 26Kms away, and has been there for a very long time – dinosaur footprints. There are very few Christians is this area, yet almost a hundred from several churches met on Friday evening. They shared in praising God till the hired hotel hall almost rocked to the voices. They prayed fervently and joyfully. I think, as we turned first one way then another, we were praying for different parts of the town, perhaps for the different churches represented. It was a lovely example of Christians united in Christ.
It was also a beautiful privilege to be the speaker, translated (since I have none of the local language – being tone deaf has made learning even simple phrases well impossible) and most of the gathering speak little English (except a very few who had worked for Americans during the period of the Viet Nam war when there were US bases here near the border). People seemed interested and excited to learn about the places where Bible stories happened. Real places, real people…
It was also encouraging that almost half returned on Saturday for four more sessions. And even more so, that they were an attentive audience through the long day. The translator did sterling work, and the few who were more bilingual (some local people with good English and some missionaries) helped her out from time to time. Translating is far more exhausting than just speaking!
It was also encouraging to spend a little time with Andrew and Roanna and with Peter and Lynley hearing something of their heartbeat to support the few local Christians, and together to share the good news in a needy world.