Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Faking Weakness in Corinth?

Matthew Malcolm wonders, "Was Paul Faking 'the Weak'?" in I Cor 8-10. This entertains David Garland's suggestion that I Cor 8-10 doesn't advise what is usually assumed -- that the "strong" should restrain their freedom for the sake of the "weak" -- but rather that any association with idols is off-limits for Christians period. The "weak" didn't exist, according to Garland; they served as a hypothetical construct for Paul's point that idolatry should be avoided at all costs.

Malcolm cites four reasons advanced by Garland in support of this view, and I'd like to focus on the last two:
• In 1 Cor 8, the problem is not that the weak might have their faith shaken and compromised; the problem is that the weak might be "strengthened" to eat idol meat (and thereby be destroyed)

• By chapter 10, Paul's argument - which started off gently by using the hypothetical example of weak brothers - becomes emphatic and uncompromising: Flee idolatry!
Mark Nanos has made similar points, but not to show that the weak didn't exist. They existed in large numbers: they were non-Christian outsiders. On this line of thinking, Paul's concern is not that the weak will revert to idolatry out of any supposed insecurity, but that they will never turn away from it. This naturally plays into the next point, that Paul is in fact urging Christians to avoid idolatry in chapter 8 as much as chapter 10. But again, contra Garland, the weak refer to pagans who stand as potential converts. (For that's what defines a pagan: they eat idol meat without any qualms; that's why they're weak.) Once we see this, we needn't suppose that Paul was "faking" the weak.

With Malcolm in the end, we should regard the essential point of I Cor 8 being that the strong should restrain themselves for the sake of a real group of others. But those others were predominantly unbelievers -- pagans whom Paul fears would get wrong ideas if they saw Christians exercising their freedoms indiscriminately. Such behavior would give potential converts the idea that Christianity was a syncrestic religion (that they could simply add Yahweh/Christ to their own pantheon), or alternatively, make Christians look like hypocrites who don't really believe in the exclusivist claims they preach.

As in Rom 14-15, Paul urged Christians to forsake their freedoms in the company of outsiders in order to win them to the gospel efficiently.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Second Death of N.T. Wrong?

As Mark Goodacre has noted, N.T. Wrong's blog is now password protected, and I'm sure this had a lot to do with it. But Wrong's maneuver could be an act of subterfuge -- I mean, we know his first death was followed by a resurrection. Mark wonders if another one is on the way, and I'm betting so, for greater things down the road. The anti-bishop has too much up his sleeve to stay buried underground.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Pseudonymous Biblioblogging

Now this is stirring the pot.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Jesus in an Age of Terror

What's there to say about James Crossley's new book? Not much. Misguided in every aspect of its intention, actually misguided at its core, this resolute display of polemic masks ambitions the author will never realize. His targets? Media hounds, bloggers, and academics, all who supposedly share a lot in common despite their opposite politics. If you're a biblioblogger who has stereotyped or attacked Arabs in any way, if your reporting of hot-button items (like the Temple Mount) even remotely smacks of partisanship, or if you've refused to openly condemn Anglo-American foreign policy given half a chance, then you've probably taken a hit or two in this book.

Take the insufferable Loren Rosson. You can get a pretty good idea as to how he is critiqued in his own review for the Nashua Public Library. Loren's review is kind enough, but then why shouldn't it be? His politics are almost as bad as Crossley's, so it's hard to understand the fuss between them. Crossley doesn't like stereotypes? Too bad. If he spent a considerable amount of time living abroad in various areas he'd feel differently. Loren respects those he stereotypes? Good. He can go back to Africa and stay there.

It burns me to see liberal multiculturalists set apart in debate, when underneath the smoke-and-mirrors they're essentially on the same page. I've complained about Loren and the Context Group in the past. Crossley is no better. He shoves reality into the dirt and pounds it to within an inch of its life. When the screed is over, we're left feeling raped, having endured 199 pages, ultimately, for what? A crash course in Political Correctness 101? How to be good little anti-Zionists? To be impressed by the way Crossley scores points against countless bloggers, while going to bat for (of all people) Jim West? To learn that the "Jewish Jesus" isn't so Jewish that he doesn't feed supersessionist interests? (Bill Arnal already taught us that.) Patronizing nonsense, all of it, but bound to find favor in circles that send me running to the nearest office of the Euston Manifesto.

Skip this crazed monstrosity and read a cheap spy novel instead. I couldn't get through it without interludes of exercise and fresh air, and I'm still feeling soiled.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The "Missing" Biblical Studies Carnival XXXVII

N.T. Wrong has taken the initiative to pull together the thirty-seventh Biblical Studies Carnival which never got done for the month of December. One highlight that he mentions is James Crossley's new book, Jesus in An Age of Terror, which I've read, though note that it's currently unavailable in the U.S. ( and Baker & Taylor still list the inaccurate Dec '08 release date).

UPDATE: Since Wrong has closed his blog, the carnival is moved to Jim West's.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Hobby-Horse Kings

Bloggers are intimately familiar with hobby-horse commenters, and for some time I've been meaning to single out a few for honorary notice. Yesterday's developments in the comments under James Crossley's latest post convinced me it was time to do this.

The following are the top three hobby-horse kings of the biblioblogosphere, those who enjoy pushing their pet theories at every possible opportunity (even when the subject is off-topic), to the near exclusion of other interests. Each authors a blog. And each has left zillions of comments (only a few are showcased below) on many different blogs, as if redundant repetition will earn as much respect as the attention they attract.
(1) Geoff Hudson. Hobby-Horses: Everyone under the sun is Jeffrey B. Gibson in disguise. Various conspiracy theories involving the reworking of Paul's letters (see the many comments consolidated under one post), which were originally about purifying the temple of animal sacrifices. Almost everywhere in biblioblogdom, Hudson leaves piles of repetitive and confusing comments, usually in dialogue with himself as much as others. He earns the top slot for sheer volume.

(2) Leon Zitzer. Hobby-Horses: All biblical scholars are unscientific, antisemitic, and liars. Scholars are engaged in a witch trial against Judas (see comments). Zitzer laments (see comments): "Biblical scholars suppress debate... They create a faux science so they will appear to be scientific. But real science is forbidden by virtually every scholar as far as I can see. If that seems like a strong statement, I should tell you that it is an eminently provable statement...I seem to be all alone in this. That’s how it goes with science."

(3) Steven Carr. Hobby-Horse: Paul denied that Jesus' corpse was raised from the dead. See further here, here, here, and here (all in comments) for redundantly predictable restatements. To be fair, I don't think Carr is entirely wrong insofar as what he argues against, only that he doesn't allow for more ambiguity and tension in the Pauline view of the resurrection.
I want to offer congratulations to our Hobby-Horse Kings for an unrelenting perseverance, and for holding their ground in the face of so much mainstream ignorance.

Friday, February 06, 2009

A Biblioblogger Festschrift?

Yes, and Stephen Carlson is going to be the editor of this ambitious, amorous project.

Biblical Studies Carnival XXVIII

The thirty-eighth Biblical Studies Carnival is up on Judy Redman's blog.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Grabbed by the Gonads: A Question of Injury or Shame?

One of the harshest punishments found in the Torah is that prescribed by Deut 25:11-12, which says that a woman who grabs the gonads of her husband's adversary should have her hand cut off. Here's the text:
א כִּי-יִנָּצוּ אֲנָשִׁים יַחְדָּו, אִישׁ וְאָחִיו, וְקָרְבָה אֵשֶׁת הָאֶחָד, לְהַצִּיל אֶת-אִישָׁהּ מִיַּד מַכֵּהוּ; וְשָׁלְחָה יָדָהּ, וְהֶחֱזִיקָה בִּמְבֻשָׁיו. יב וְקַצֹּתָה, אֶת-כַּפָּהּ: לֹא תָחוֹס, עֵינֶךָ.

If two men fight with each other, a man with his brother, and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him, and puts out her hand and seizes him [בִּמְבֻשָׁיו], then you shall cut off her hand; your eye shall have no pity.
In the entire Hebrew Bible the term [בִּמְבֻשָׁיו] is found only here, and its most literal translation would be "shameful things/parts" based on the paronyms of the verb equivalent. Almost all biblical translations render "genitals", an obviously safe assumption.

The problem is that there is no biblical term for genitals, only euphemisms -- such as "feet" (Ezek 16:25), "heel" (Hos 12:3), "thighs", "loins", "flesh", "nakedness", "vessel" (I Sam 21:5), "hand" (Isa 57:8). Jack Elliot notes that euphemisms act as "linguistic deodorant, verbal placebos, or conversational fig leaves" (or more negatively, mask/distort the truth in order to protect people's sensibilities) ("Deuteronomy--Shameful Encroachment on Shameful Parts", in Ancient Israel, edited by Philip Esler, p 164), and it says something about the amount of shame tied to people's genitalia that they didn't speak of them directly.

For that's what's at stake here: honor and shame. A woman who squeezed the balls of someone fighting with her husband brought down hordes of shame on all parties involved. Thus Elliott:
"As to the males, the mere fact of their fighting in public had already put the issue of honor and shame on the table. To the victor would go the plaudits of an admiring crowd. To the loser, only shame. The wife's interfering crotch-grope would have brought profound shame on all concerned. Shame for the wife because she transgressed into male space and violated the physical boundary of a male not her husband or relative. Shame for the husband because he allowed his wife to 'help out', thereby showing that (1) he needed help and could not finish off his adversary by himself; (2) that he accepted help from a female in an exclusively male affair; and (3) that he allowed his woman to encroach on another male's 'holy of holies'. Shame for the husband's adversary for allowing an 'inferior' female to get the better of him by grabbing his 'family jewels', knocking him to his knees with a nutcracker grip, and violating his sanctum sanctorum. Given the anxiety about such socially damaging shame, the formulation of this law becomes quite plausible." (ibid, pp 172-173)
But Marc Cortez disputes the honor-shame reading of Deut 25:11-12, claiming that a threat to the husband's well-being would override concerns for honor and shame, or at the very least not warrant the severe penalty of chopping the woman's hand off. Howard Eilberg-Schwartz rightly refutes this: "her husband's safety is less important than his opponent's honor" (God's Phallus and Other Problems for Men and Monotheism, pp 156-157). And Robert Coote places this in the context of Deut 25:5-12 as a whole: while a widow should openly shame her brother-in-law if he refuses to marry her (by tearing off his sandal and spitting in his face) (verses 5-10), that's no license for women to engage in outrageously shameful behavior like interfering in a fight and grabbing men's gonads (verses 11-12).

Cortez remains adamant, however, that concern over a husband's safety would trump honor-shame concerns. So why the harsh punishment for the woman? Out of concern, he claims, for the adversary's reproductive capacity (i.e. if his balls were squeezed hard enough and permanently injured). Chopping off the woman's hand would then be understood as an application of the lex talionis ("eye for an eye") found in Exod 21:23-25, Lev 24:19-20, and Deut 19:21:
"The laws of talion do not seem to apply to an action that only involved shame or the violation of a tabu serious as those offenses might be. Rather, the limited range of application available for the lex talionis implicitly supports the presumption of injury to the man. Although such injury is not explicitly indicated in the law, it may be that the Deuteronomist felt that the punishment indicated and the semantic links to the lex talionis were sufficiently clear as to need no other indicators." ("The Law on Violent Intervention", p 12)
But not only is it unlikely that a woman would possess enough strength to permanently maim a man's genitals to the extent of ruining his reproductive capacity (so Elliott, ibid, p 171), a "hand for a pair of balls" isn't exactly the lex talionis principle at work -- unless the woman's "hand" is a euphemism for her genitals (as we see "hand" being used for male genitals in Isa 57:8 and Song of Songs 5:4). That would mean "a hand for a hand" (like a female circumcision, as cleverly proposed by Lyle Eslinger, "The Case of the Immodest Lady Wrestler in Deuteronomy 25:11-12", VT 31, p 273). While that's an ingenious reading, and one I confess that I like, it's a bit strained. Elliott argues that not only does it require too much on top of the euphemism -- a correspondence between "shameful parts" and "hand" as different euphemisms for the same object (genitals), but of different-gendered persons -- the woman's genitals are being permanently mutilated unlike the man's (unless his gonads were indeed crushed so severely to be useless, which as mentioned, is the most unlikely scenario) (ibid, p 173).

The honor-shame reading of Deut 25:11-12 remains the most plausible. The severe punishment prescribed for a woman was more a sentence for shame than payment for injury.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

"God Speaking Out His Ass"

There's an interview with N.T. Wrong up on This was my favorite part, when asked if he had ever benefited from the work of N.T. Wright:
"Yes... Although I have many complaints, I still read evangelical biblical scholars alongside non-evangelical ones. It would be foolish to ignore them. Somebody always makes a correct observation that you've missed. There's treasure in some funny places. Remember the lesson shown to the prophet Balaam: God sometimes chooses to speak out of His ass."

Wrong's Monthly Ratings

Even though N.T. Wrong has called it quits, he's continuing his monthly postings of the top 50 biblioblogs. This month The Busybody comes in at #40.