Monday, September 28, 2009

"Vertical" and "Horizontal" Aspects of Righteousness

Michael Bird insists that "vertical" and "horizontal" components to Paul's use of righteousness are equally important, and I think he's right. Justification deals with the vertical problem of a believer's orientation to God and the horizontal problem of Jew-Gentile relationships. "Lutheran" (vertical) and "New Perspective" (horizontal) dimensions to righteousness are inherent to Paul's theology, but the question remains how we should understand them. This is how Michael puts it, quoting himself:
"A holistic reading of Romans and Galatians should tie together the covenantal [horizontal] and forensic [vertical] dimensions of God's righteousness... According to Paul, faith alone in Jesus is the basis of vindication; and faith alone marks out the people of God." (The Saving Righteousness of God, p 153)
Michael has the right idea, but "forensic" and "covenantal" are poor ways of understanding the two components, especially the former.

In my blogpost, Paul's Use of "Righteousness", I followed Philip Esler's view that dikaiosyne means privileged or blessed identity -- or acceptability -- based on the Septuagint's intense usage (over 100 times) in Proverbs and Psalms. The bible uses righteousness as a form of ascribed honor ("acceptability") all over the place, and this is clearly the use Paul picked up on. When he was dragged into conflict with the law, he seized the prize of this righteousness from traditional associations with Israelite privilege under Torah, and claimed that Christians not under the law were in fact the ones blessed in God's eyes.

Against the forensic understanding, the Septuagint uses righteousness in a judicial setting only 8 times, and where it means "find in favor of" more than "acquit". Luther's idea that the future judgment occurs proleptically in the present when a person is righteoused by God is alien to Paul's thought, because for the apostle righteousness and the judgment are distinct -- and even more importantly, the righteous (elect) are not even judged anyway. They simply give an account of themselves on the last day, receive their reward, and are waved through. Yes, there is a vertical component to righteousness, but it's not as "Lutheran" as most assume; it's not forensic/judicial.

Against the covenantal understanding, Paul reached a point where he stopped thinking in covenantal categories, certainly by the time of Galatians where law and covenant were obsolete and irrelevant to the Christian believer. The post-I Corinthians Paul wasn't even in bed with a "new" law or covenant, despite echoes of this previous stance in places like Gal 6:2 and II Cor 3:6. "Covenant" may get at the right idea behind the horizontal component to righteousness -- and admittedly does justice to the pre-Galatians Paul -- but we should avoid it when assessing his letters which deal with righteousness head-on.

Let's keep the matter simple like Paul did. The Christian believer was righteous -- or privileged, or blessed, or acceptable -- by virtue of being elect and chosen by God, irrespective of anything he/she may have done to deserve this. Being righteous entailed a specific way of orienting oneself to God, namely, participating in Christ's death apart from the law and living by the spirit (the vertical component). It also entailed a specific way of orienting oneself among Jews and Gentiles in community, again apart from the law (the horizontal component). Righteousness was radically co-opted by Paul so that one's acceptability had nothing to do with the law along either coordinate.

I should stress that there's no reason Paul had to do any of this. He could have easily abandoned righteousness to his opposition and conceded it as a purely Judean phenomenon associated with the law, and rest satisfied in the knowledge that he and his converts were the truly sanctified. Esler points out that Paul did exactly that in I Thessalonians, using sanctification language alone and even going out of his way to delete "righteousness" from his scriptural source (Isa 59:17) in I Thess 5:8. Schweitzer and Wrede were right about righteousness not being central to Paul's thought. And the fact that Paul saw fit to wrest the term from his foes and radically rework it -- reclaim it for his law-free Gentiles -- speaks volumes for his audacious character.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Death of Forrest Church

All Souls Church announces the sad news about Forrest Church and the online tribute to this inspiring preacher. He will be greatly missed.

A Paranormal Movie Trailer

I'm wary about the hype for Paranormal Activity, a low-budget horror film released last night in select theaters. It's being compared to The Blair Witch Project and is supposedly the most frightening thing to hit the screens in a long time. I'll believe that when I see it (Blair Witch didn't scare me at all), though the audience who screen tested it evidently felt terrorized. Watch them and it here.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Paul and the New Perspective: The Evolution of a Theology

That's the title of the book I've started writing, and it's already loads of fun.

It's been 18 years since I first cracked Paul and Palestinian Judaism, and over the course of these formative years my allegiance to the New Perspective has been challenged and amended as much as Paul's theology itself. With adult confidence setting in, I figure it's time to nail down the issue more formally. Here are a few thoughts as to where I'm going in the book.

I regard New Perspective scholars as falling into one of three camps:
(A) The "Replacement" Group, which claims that Paul thought the law was finished. He was concerned with the scope of God's salvation, but also that grace and law were mutually exclusive. A sectarian Christology had as much to say about the law as the Gentile question. Lead advocates for this group are Ed Sanders, Philip Esler, and Francis Watson.

(B) The "Boundary Markers" Group, which argues that Paul thought a kernel of the law remained in force, minus its boundary-marking "works". He was almost entirely concerned with the scope of God's salvation. The law was finished as a badge of national privilege, but it still had a salvific role to play. Spokesmen for this group are James Dunn and Tom Wright.

(C) The "Two-Covenants" Group, which maintains that Paul thought the law was still in force for Jews, though only a kernel of it for Gentiles, and that he possibly even held out hope for Israel's salvation apart from Christ. This group is similar to (B) except that nothing changed for Jews. Ethnic works were optional for Gentiles only. Think Lloyd Gaston, Mark Nanos, and Stanley Stowers.
All three groups agree on two things. First, the law wasn't a burden for ancient Jews, and Paul was no exception; he had no problems as a Pharisee doing what the law required. Second, his conflict with the law originated in the Gentile mission. He was neither a disembodied theorizer nor an introspective soul-searcher. These two common denominators -- which should by now be accepted as plain facts -- are what define a New Perspective advocate. But beyond them lies heavy disagreement.

As I recently explained, the (B) group is the weakest of the lot, representing a step backwards from Sanders even as its advocates think they're improving on him. The (C) group has shown how Dunn and Wright ultimately fall back on apologetic foils, replacing legalistic Jews with racist Jews, and obsessing "boundary markers" and "covenant badges" to the point of caricature. The result is that Paul emerges for the (B) group as a hero fully justified in his critique of Judaism, as much a hero as in the days of Bultmann. The (C) group, while pushing ethnic issues as strongly the (B) group, at least steer clear of foils and anachronistic categories. They may be Jewish apologists instead of Christian ones, but allow for nuances in Paul's thought which yield some accurate results in a letter like Romans.

Thesis. The intent of my book is twofold. (1) To show why the (A) group is essentially right, despite claims that Sanders et. all have remained largely within the old framework and repeated Lutheran themes. Paul thought grace and law were mutually exclusive alternatives, and he broke with mainstream Judaism. (2) To chronicle the evolution of Paul's theology, and see how he went from advocating a new law (the Torah's messianic successor) to dispensing with moral imperatives completely, and then backpedalling a bit to salvage something good about God's commandments. This evolution occurred in the face of many pressures: hostile situations, failed expectations, a bad reputation, and personal unease with his own convictions. As his theology changed, echoes of what he discarded inevitably lingered. Thus he referred to "Christ's law" in Gal 6:2, even as Galatians makes clear that Christians aren't under any law at all (against the earlier view of I Corinthians). Thus he implied that the Christian body is Israel in Rom 9:6-8, even as Romans makes clear that only ethnic Israel is Israel (against the earlier view of Galatians). Paul's theology cannot be systematized coherently, even within single letters. We can only systematize the continuum of his theology by accepting tension as inherent along its spectrum. The sequence of Paul's letters is crucial to understanding this continuum, and a post-I Corinthians dating for Galatians makes perfect sense of the proposed evolution. In the end, Paul's theology can be legitimately said to encompass a Lutheran credo -- and more than just as an accidental byproduct of "central convictions" -- and that this was a monster of his own making.

Pushing beyond the Lutheran and New Perspectives is definitely in the air. Francis Watson recently took a swing at both, and Douglas Campbell has just done something similar. Now it's my turn. I'll be showing why the New Perspective is a good bedrock but shouldn't be taken too far, and that the Lutheran paradigm does Paul more justice than we want to admit. We'll see an apostle who was dragged into demolishing the law against his will, but then seized the higher ground by expanding on his polemic in deliberately shocking directions.

Of course, my book will probably be read by less than a dozen people...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Last House on the Left

I've been dreading reviewing The Last House on the Left. It's a remake of what many consider to be a great cult classic of the '70s, which in turn was derived from -- believe it if you dare -- Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring. But I've always despised The Last House on the Left for being repulsive while not in the least bit scary. With lousy production values, terrible acting, and a silly banjo score playing over cheap comic interludes, it's way overrated for its transgressiveness. I know Wes Craven admitted he was on drugs half the time he was shooting the film, but really. Despite my love for hardcore horror, his "classic" nauseates me. It's so badly done that it's impossible to be emotionally invested in the girls who get tortured, and so it plays like a snuff film. When last year around this time I heard it was being remade, I groaned but knew I'd have to see it in the theater. When in March I went to do that, I was... well, pleasantly surprised. And remain so after watching it again on DVD.

Dennis Iliadis' remake isn't perfect. The problem with revenge films is the payoff is hollow, and this one is no exception. But aside from the final act, most of it is quite impressive. In the first 50 minutes we're introduced to Mari and Paige who are abducted by lethal killers, and then brutally tortured in the woods close to where Mari's parents are lodging for a weekend vacation. Unlike in Craven's original, this is all well scripted, edited, and acted, so we care about the girls. Their ordeal is just as harrowing as in the '70s version: Paige is killed and Mari violated, the latter being the most disturbing rape I've seen in a film along with the one in Gaspar Noe's Irreversible. It goes on for a long time (a full three minutes in the unrated version) and can make a seasoned horror veteran feel helplessly angry, but it's a necessary and pivotal scene which molds our mindset to everything that follows.

What follows at first is a well-orchestrated, atmospherically menacing 30 minutes, as night falls and the stranded killers come calling for help at the lake house of Mari's parents. The parents put them up for the night, serve drinks, and the father (a doctor) even treats a nose injury. It's a scary and suspenseful half hour, because we know what these scumbags have just done to Mari while Mom and Dad are all hospitality. Camera shots are slow, patient, and unnerving; everyone sips their drinks awkwardly in candlelight; the mood is as dreadful as the rape was upsetting. We expect the guests to show their true colors at any moment, and the mother seems to sense something isn't right about them.

Then come the final 30 minutes, which are neither disturbing nor scary, but cathartically entertaining -- if this is your sort of thing. Mari's parents learn the truth about their guests, and things deteriorate into a formula of overblown revenge, with Mom and Dad triumphing a bit too easily. Because audience members still feel as violated as Mari, they roar approvingly when the scumbags get bashed, pounded, shot, and shredded six ways to Sunday. The most memorable scene has the parents subduing one of the baddies, thrusting his arm down the kitchen sink, turning on the garbage disposal, and holding his arm in place for a long time (his hideous screaming is finally ended by the back end of a hammer being bashed through his head). Many people love this stuff, but I do not. What began as a serious film is now a popcorn movie, and part of me wonders if the clash of genres wasn't intended. Is Iliadis asking us to look at ourselves and question our willingness to indulge fantasies of unholy revenge? If so, then perhaps he deserves more credit than I'm giving, but I can't say I believe it.

The Last House on the Left is, for the most part, a vast improvement over an old travesty. Iliadis has probably done the best he could with the inherited material. Even the final act I complain about has been toned down to make it at least somewhat believable. Craven gave us a mother who couldn't emote a single tear for her torn up daughter, and who was oddly capable of exacting revenge by giving one of the killers a blowjob (all the way to climax) so she could bite off his member. Iliadis, thankfully, never descends to such depths.

Rating: 3 ½ stars out of 5.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sanders vs. Wright: Whose New Perspective?

In his live office hours, Mark Goodacre answered a question about Pauline justification by endorsing the New Perspective, but more in line with Ed Sanders than Tom Wright. Readers of this blog know I feel much the same way, that Dunn and Wright have tried improving on Sanders in the wrong way by reducing the totality of Paul's justification doctrine to ethnic issues. While the message of Gentile inclusion was crucial for Paul, it was subordinate to a radical Christology which encapsulated a Lutheran-like paradigm even if only by way of consequence or corollary.

N.T. Wrong isn't far from the truth when he charges Wright with turning Paul into an apartheid protestor obsessed with "boundary markers".
"If there is anything that is a testimony to the failure of the New Perspective, it's the unbelievably contrived stretches which result when Wright tries to apply his ideas in a full commentary on Romans (in the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary). It's like watching a defender of the Ptolemaic view of the universe adding epicycle upon epicycle. His very defence of the New Perspective shows something must be wrong with it."
The same could be said for Dunn and his Word Biblical Commentary (Vol 38 A&B), in which all of the textual data in Romans is strained through the sieve of ethnic privilege. That works fine for Rom 2-4 but not Rom 5-8, where Jewish "works" aren't even mentioned, even if we were to grant that "boundary markers" were what Paul had in mind with the term (on which see further). Paul speaks about the law phenomenologically in Rom 7, even if only consequentially, and even if he never actually experienced the futility and anguish he goes out of his way to describe so graphically. He invokes the figures of Adam and Medea in an exercise of theological give-and-take, shifting the blame for sin onto devilish agents (Rom 7:7-13) and people themselves (Rom 7:14-25) so as to exonerate God and salvage something good out of an entirely useless law which can't save at all. Paul was digging himself out of a major hole in Rom 7, not talking about how the law merely leads one astray by coveting privileged status!

But even in a context like Rom 2-4, Wright and Dunn run into problems. Yes, Paul characterized the law as effectively limiting God's grace to Israel (Rom 3:28-30), but the term "works of the law" shouldn't be formally understood as "boundary markers" or "badges of covenant membership". Jews wouldn't have defined themselves by overt signals at the expense of value orientations, and Gentile outsiders wouldn't have obligingly characterized them by their own self-understanding on the assumption that were true (so Esler). (In an agonistic world, outsiders use hostile stereotypes, which Gentiles of course did.) True, Paul often had in mind special works like circumcision, food laws, and holy days, but to categorize ἔργων νόμου as "boundary markers" gives the impression that he was programatically concerned with breaking down racial boundaries as we are today, when his view was more apocalyptic -- and even here only initially. As the kingdom didn't come, Paul actually reasserted distinctions in Christ. (See "In Christ There Is Jew and Greek".)

Readers may wonder why I don't indict someone like Mark Nanos here. The reason is a bit complex. Although Nanos pushes the New Perspective by making Paul more Jewish-friendly than any other scholar under the sun, he steers clear of anachronistic categories. In fact, he's been very critical of the way "boundary markers" have been used to caricaturize Judaism. In place of legalistic Jews, Dunn and Wright have given us racist Jews. Nanos reaches many of his conclusions via rhetorical analysis, which I view as important, even if I think he has the wrong rhetorical model for a letter like Galatians. He takes Paul to places few scholars dream of going, but his methods are ironically more sound than those of Wright and Dunn, and his results somewhat less apologetic.

That, for my money, is why a Sanders/Esler approach is to be preferred over a Wright/Dunn approach. And if we go with the former, we needn't be driven to N.T. Wrong's conclusion that "the New Perspective has failed", though in some ways we clearly have to move beyond it. Mark Goodacre may have other reasons for preferring Sanders. In the office hours he was more concerned to emphasize the lasting contribution which I hope everyone agrees with: that foils have no place in the academy.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Goodacre's Live Office Hours Available

You can listen to Mark Goodacre expound on passion, prostitutes, homo-eroticism, and other racy inquiries here. I was planning to pester him with a question myself but was at the movies yesterday (watching aliens try to survive the Johannesburg apartheid system) when he was on the air. It's a good session, and Mark is of course a great spokesman.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dynamics of Identity

Following Pat McCullough's lead, I'll be adding this to my reading list: Dynamics of Identity in the World of the Early Christians, by Phil Harland. The book is apparently critical of sectarian models used to understand the early Christians. Says John Kloppenborg:
"This is a finely crafted volume which both engages recent social scientific literature on identity theory and employs little-known but critical studies of small group formations in the ancient Mediterranean. . . Harland’s critical analysis of models of sectarianism and his appeal to data from ancient associations leads to a nuanced view of early Christian group formation, which does not automatically presume tension between small groups and society as the dominant dynamic, but instead demonstrates a complex and subtle combination of assimilation, mimesis, and differentiation. This study takes us well beyond the contemporary consensus on the formation of early Christian groups."
And Harland himself mentions the book in the context of a riot at Pompeii. I'm ordering it tonight.

One Bastard of a Movie

Quentin Tarantino is back -- and I mean the old Tarantino who showed how excessive dialogue can be so wildly entertaining, characters most impressive when sophisticated, bad-ass, and absurd all at once, and in general how to make cinematic art out of the preposterous. Inglourious Basterds is easily his best film since Pulp Fiction, and I agree a masterpiece, as the director hubristically proclaims through the mouth of his lead character at the end. Whether or not it tops Pulp Fiction I can't yet decide. That will take some distance and another viewing.

Keep your judgment in check as I describe the film's twin plots, which on the face of it are laughable. A group of zealous Jewish Americans (the Basterds) are on a mission in Nazi-occupied France to kill and scalp as many Nazis as possible. A Jewish woman fleeing the Gestapo comes to Paris, and assumes management of a theater which will eventually be visited by all the top echelons of the Third Reich, including the Fuhrer himself. The Jewish woman and the Basterds, unaware of each other's existence, come up with independent plans to take out Hitler and his cronies on premiere night. Not all goes according to plan for either party, though the Nazis do end up getting their just deserts in an apocalyptic conflagration. Trust Tarantino to flesh all this out with good story.

Special mention must be made of Christoph Waltz who plays the ferociously shrewd "Jew Hunter", ferreting out Jews who hide under floorboards, interrogating suspects with disturbing but enjoyable wit. I come close to putting Waltz's performance on the same level with Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of Hannibal Lecter and Heath Ledger's Joker. He's that memorable: evil, mannered, and ludicrous all at once, the perfect villain for a Tarantino film.

On Tyler Williams' Facebook page there's been some discussion about the film's moral cash value. I join the opinion that it's not a redemptive violence movie. Unlike Pulp Fiction, Basterds doesn't use violence to reach for something higher as much as it holds a mirror to ourselves. Commenter Mike Perschon notes that Nazi horrors are largely absent from the film, focusing instead on atrocities committed by the Jewish "Bastards" (Eli Roth's gleeful bashing of a Nazi officer's head with a baseball bat is a memorable spectacle), and that we're perhaps even meant to identify with Hitler and his cronies as they sit in the theater thrilling to the Nazi premiere in which their "enemies" are being slaughtered on screen.

Tarantino's films are only obliquely moralistic in any case. What he wants above all is to entertain and make us laugh our asses off at things that are normally far from amusing. "You name me any horrific thing," he once told Charlie Rose, "and I can make it funny." The way to do this, as I think he's done so well, is by embracing irony, a certain level of nihilism, and just plain bizarreness, irrespective of how that formula may offend. To this extent I agree with Carson Lund, who writes that
"The film's bizarreness, conceptually, is central to its success or failure. On one end of the stick, this blueprint, which treats the Holocaust with lighthearted, playful vengeance, is sure to offend many, while on the other, you have to appreciate Tarantino's willingness to upend the conventions he's working under, and his ability to provide a consistent air of comedy to a topic that is most typically portrayed with grave solemnity. I believe in the latter, because I prefer not to let morals or proper manners get in the way of a film's integrity as a film."
Allowing any moral compass to interfere with artistic integrity is a plague on filmmaking, and one need only think of the outrage against Mel Gibson to see how certain sensibilities hindered a proper assessment of his passion film. Gibson himself may well be anti-Semitic, but his film is not. No one thinks Tarantino is anti-Semitic, but neither should his film be judged as insensitive for supposedly trivializing the Holocaust tragedy. It's not disrespectful, but oddly the opposite.

The film is a must see, and Tarantino fans will be ecstatic.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Interview with Christopher Skinner

Don't miss the interview with Christopher Skinner conducted by Andrew Bernhard and Mike Grondin. Skinner, author of John and Thomas—Gospels in Conflict?: Johannine Characterization and the Thomas Question, contends that Pagels, Riley, and DeConick have been "envisioning a conflict [between the Johannine and Thomasine communities] for which there is very little evidence", and overemphasizing the significance of Thomas' character in John. DeConick responds here, arguing that her position isn't as speculative as Skinner claims.

And on the GThomas mailing list, Mike Grondin asks more of Skinner, including a question that came to my mind: "In your answer to the next-to-last question of the interview, you say that 'The christological landscape of the first few centuries C.E. is quite complex,' yet you downplay the notion of community conflict. How is community conflict different from 'a complex christological landscape'?" Took the words out of my mouth.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Seven Deadly Sins Across America

According to a study from Kansas State, different parts of the U.S. are prone to different sins. Check it out. And look at all the sin in the Bible Belt! If my neck of the woods is a bastion of greed, I guess I'm exceptional. Take with a pound of salt... though it's admittedly a fun chart.

(HT: Ben Witherington.)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Too Soon or Too Late? The Ending of Mark's Gospel

Stephen Carlson is doubting there was an original ending to Mark's gospel beyond Mk 16:8, and he's equally dissatisfied with the alternative hypothesis that accepts 16:8 as a suitable suspended ending (intended provocatively), for fear of imposing a 20th-century "faddish aesthetic" on the text. He suggests that we've been looking at the problem the wrong way, that Mark doesn't end too soon, but too late. 16:5-7 would have been a reasonable ending, he notes, with a reliable figure assuring that Jesus was raised and will appear to the disciples, while verse 8 undercuts the resolution with a response of fright and disobedience.

Meanwhile James McGrath maintains there was probably an original ending now lost to us, and that the gospels of John and Peter can help give an idea as to what it looked it like (see his SBL paper from last year). I heard James deliver his interesting paper in Boston (along with Stephen) but don't think he addresses why Mark was underscoring scared and disobedient women in 16:8. That's really the question that has to be answered to make sense of Mark's ending -- whether it was the original or not.

UPDATE: Stephen follows up, suggesting that "the dominant theme of 16:8 is not the women’s disobedience but their fright", and "this theme of fright was meant to enhance, not undercut, the authority of the young man in white [i.e. the work of God]". Mark wrote with the best of intentions; it just didn't quite come out quite the way he wanted.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Memorable Moments from the Sermons of Steven Anderson

Chris Heard is calling for the resignation of Pastor Steven Anderson for praying that God strikes Obama with brain cancer. This certainly isn't the first time Anderson has been highlighted by a biblioblogger. In fact, just days before, Michael Heiser and Mark Goodacre refuted Anderson's "proof" that the NIV is a Satanic Bible. But for solid enjoyment you have to go back over a year when Tyler Williams and I blogged Anderson's lecture on pissing postures. Around that time I also commented on an especially nasty sermon in which Romans 11 was hijacked in order to call down destruction on the city of San Francisco (noted by Tim Ricchuiti).

Steve Anderson is spellbinding and continues to floor me with the stuff he bellows from the pulpit. I think it's time for a list of most memorable moments from his sermons. How about a dirty dozen? There was no contest for the number one slot.

1. On the necessity of standing while voiding. "We've got pastors who pee sitting down. We've got the President of the United States who probably pees sitting down. We've got a bunch of preachers, a bunch of leaders, who won't stand up and piss against the wall like a man. And let me tell you, that's what's wrong with America."

2. Against Bible Colleges. "Show me a single place in the Bible where prophets and men of the Lord went to Bible college."

3. Against gays. "I'm going to spend one hour on my knees praying that God destroys San Francisco on Labor Day weekend. You say, 'Is it going to happen?' Well, I'm going to pray for it to happen. You say, 'I don't like that, it doesn't make me feel good'. Well, you'll start feeling good one of these days when you get to Heaven. And you know what? You'll feel good if you go home and read your Bible. I felt good today when I read my Bible. I memorized the Bible today on the airplane, and I felt pretty good."

4. On IVF (in vitro fertilization). "Stealing babies from God. It's saying, 'Hey, where's my reward, God? You owe me a blessing! Oh, you won't give it to me? Then I'm going to come in, and throw you out of your throne, God! And I'm going to reward myself! I'm going to say -- like Satan did in Isa 14:14 -- '"I will be like the Most High!" I will be like God! I'm going to create human life! And kill in the process! And steal from God!"

5. On global warming. "You say, 'Pastor Anderson, do you believe in global warming?' Hey, I believe that one day God's going to turn up the heat so much, he's going to scorch men with the sun -- when the fourth trumpet is blown in the book of Revelation. And so yeah, I believe in climate change. It changed a little bit from yesterday to today, in fact."

6. On the mocking character of God. "Look what God says [Prov 1:26]: 'I will laugh at your calamity. I will mock when your fear cometh.' When you're scared to death, when you realize the truth, when you realize that you're going to be damned to hell, God says, 'I'm going to make FUN of you, I'm going to MOCK you, I'm going to LAUGH at you!'"

7. On Barack Obama and Psalm 58. "If there was any justice in this country, if the judicial branch in this country meant anything, they would take Barack Obama and abort him. They would melt him like a snail. They would break the teeth out of his head, my friend."

8. On the Satanic nature of the NIV. "There are 678 verses in the book of Mark. But look at this footnote in the NIV: 'The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mk 16:9-20'. How many verses are in the book of Mark? 678. What happens if we subtract verses 9-20? What's 678 minus 12? 666. That's how many verses are in the book of Mark in the NIV. 666. Oh, but that's just a coincidence, right?"

9. On yelling from the pulpit. "You say, 'Why do you yell when you preach?' I yell when I preach, because people are going to Hell, that's why! I yell when I preach, because there's fire in Hell, that's why! And because God told me to yell -- what does Isa 58:1 say? 'Cry aloud! Spare not! Lift up thy voice like a trumpet!'"

10. On the Bible as a resource. "I always go the Bible when I want to know what to believe about anything. I mean anything. Any answer that I need to any subject -- I don't care what the subject is -- it's going to be covered in the Bible."

11. Stealing from a girl in Sunday school. "She had the wrong Bible. It was a New International Version, or a New King James Version, or a New Revised Standard Version, or whatever... So I took her Bible away and gave her a King James Bible. And this is what I said to her: 'Do you think that the Bible is a new book or an old book? You see what your Bible says: it says "new". Do you think God's word is something new? That's right: God's word is old. So let me give you an old Bible. Not a new one that's been changed.'"

12. On love and hate. "If you love the Father, then you'll love God's word, and God's WORD! says that the homosexual deserves the death penalty. God's WORD! says 'I will set no wicked thing before my eyes'. God's WORD! says 'I HATE the work of them that turn aside, it shall not cleave to me.' Hey, God's WORD! says to go out and preach the Gospel to every creature. And you know what? The same guy who goes out and preaches the Gospel until he can't even talk anymore -- the same soul-winning Christian who goes out and wins souls -- is the same one who comes to a church on a leather-lunged preacher and gets up and rebukes sin. Hey, God is love, but God's angry with the wicked every day! Hey, God is love, but holy is the Lord! And so you can't have one without the other. You show me the loving, charitable, giving, soul-winning church, and I'll show you the hellfire-and-damnation fire-breathing preacher. You can't love the flowers unless you hate the weeds."

If you want the joy of listening to these in full context, see the Sermons from Faithful Word Baptist Church. The quotes are from the following. 1. "The Old Fashioned Way" (1/20/08). 2. "Why Bible College is Unscriptural" (2/10/08). 3. "Romans 11" (8/22/07). 4. "The Seven Sins of IVF" (7/23/06). 5. "Environmentalism" (6/1/08). 6. Sodomite Reprobates (7/9/06). 7. "Barack Obama Melting as a Snail" (1/18/09). 8. "Yea Hath God Said?" (8/2/09). 9. "The Reality of Hell" (5/14/06). 10. "God's View of Immigration" (5/7/06). 11. "The Old Fashioned Way" (1/20/08). 12. "The Sorcery of Television" (11/30/08).

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Deceiver or Rhetorician? Nanos on I Cor 9:19-23

"The man who hypocritically pretends to be what he is not makes himself a liar in everything that he does. He disguises himself in a mask. He cheats those who are entitled to hear the truth. He assaults the soul's comprehension by various tactics, and like any charlatan he wins the gullible over to his side... And if, therefore, this Paul is a Jew one minute and the next a Roman, or a student of the Jewish law now, but at another time an enemy of the law — then he is the adopted brother of everything false." (Macarius Magnes, Apocritus 3.31; transl. R. Joseph Hoffmann, Porphyry's Against the Christians: The Literary Remains [New York: Prometheus Books, 1994], 60-61).
Mark Nanos always tackles the big questions -- and accusations, like the one above -- and his essay on I Cor 9:19-23 has been a long time coming. "Paul's Relationship to Torah in Light of His Strategy 'to Become Everything to Everyone'" denies that Paul was describing his behavior in the infamous passage, arguing that the apostle was being rhetorically adaptive, reasoning from his audience's premises without imitating their conduct.
"One works from the audiences' premises or world-views, even though seeking to lead them to a conclusion that is based on another set of premises or world-views. Teachers normally seek to relate to students in this way. It is highly useful for making a persuasive argument in any context, especially in philosophical or religious debates, including recruitment and discipleship, as well as for apologetical purposes. That is just how Socrates approached his interlocutors... I propose Paul's self-description here [I Cor 9:19-23] refers entirely to his evangelistic tactic of rhetorical adaptability, and did not include any level of lifestyle adaptability involving the adoption of conduct representing his various audiences' convictional propositions. He could undertake this argumentative tactic as a Jew faithfully observing Torah, even when speaking to lawless Jews, Jews upholding different halakhic standards, and non-Jews of any stripe. Thus Paul's behavior was free of the duplicitous conduct which serves as the basis for the charges of moral dishonesty, inconsistency, and so on, that arise logically from the prevailing views." (pp 17-18)
So instead of behaving like a Gentile when winning Gentiles, Paul was just reasoning like one. "In this rhetorical, discursive sense Paul could actually become like—or even become—everything to everyone." (p 25)

Nanos is thus able to resolve the tension hanging throughout I Cor 8 & 10 (see pp 20-22), noting that Paul begins by reasoning from very non-Jewish principles (that idols are nobodies and food offered to them may be eaten as profane) to Jewish conclusions (that there actually are daemons represented by these idols and food offered to them must not be eaten). By instructing his knowledgeable converts to avoid idol food on account of the "weak" (whom Nanos identifies with non-Christian pagans, though the present thesis doesn't depend on this identity), Paul "becomes like" them, but only in theory, so as to lend force to his surprising conclusion.

Not only does this resolve argumentative tensions, it protects Paul's image. It turns out the apostle wasn't a deceptive chameleon after all, just a rhetorician. But I'm not convinced. Along with Mark Given I accept Paul for the cunning deceiver that he was, and it's worth revisiting Given's critique of the way scholars have domesticated I Cor 9:19-23. First is someone like Clarence Glad, who translates deception into accommodation: "I became like" really just means "I associated with", and nothing more. But that's twisting the language, and as Given notes, there's not a single instance in the NT or LXX where the construction ἐγενόμην... ὡς is used to express a mere willingness to associate with someone (Paul's True Rhetoric, p 109). Second is someone like E.P. Sanders, who dismisses Paul's deception as hyperbole. But as Given points out, in order for a statement to appear as hyperbole it must have a significant amount of truth to begin with. "We can classify Paul's claim to have fully preached the gospel from Jerusalem as far round as Illyricum as hyperbole rather than an empty boast because he truly had covered a lot of land and sea. If, however, Paul only on rare and exceptional occasions enslaved himself to others as Sanders thinks, I Cor 9:19-23 would not qualify as hyperbole, but hypocrisy." (ibid, p 111)

Nanos is now offering a third way of domesticating Paul's deception -- via rhetorical adaptation -- but it may have the same problem as the first. Can the "becoming" language of I Cor 9:19-23 plausibly be taken to mean that Paul was only reasoning like a Gentile instead of acting or behaving like one? Is the ἐγενόμην... ὡς expression ever used in the NT or LXX in this restrictive sense? The examples canvassed by Given (Gen 34:15, Jdt 12:13, Mic 7:1, Isa 63:19) all point to concrete, observable changes (see ibid, p 109). Nanos actually thinks his position may be somewhat compatible with Given's. In the lengthy footnote on p 23 of his paper he writes, "I do not think that Given's reading need be far from the one I propose, by dropping 'acting like' but keeping 'speaking like'" -- objecting to "acting like" on grounds that the idea of "mimicking" or "imitating" or "pretending to be" isn't the lexical equivalent of "becoming like" (see pp 22-25). I'm hardly a Greek expert, so I can only again ask, can ἐγενόμην... ὡς realistically accommodate the meaning of "reasoning/speaking like" that Nanos is pushing for?

More generally, I wonder if we should we be breaking our backs to replace Christian apologetics with a Jewish one. Why is a deceptive Paul so difficult to accept? Because it darkens his moral compass? That's hardly an historical reason -- and far from a realistic one. Because it would have made for an impractical missionary strategy? That's a better objection, and Nanos does claim that chameleon behavior would have made for "an ineffective bait and switch strategy". Even if it sounds like an expedient solution for moving among different groups of people, "the inconsistency would almost certainly result in failure, giving truth to the lie he lives" (p 4). But failure is what resulted, if we can trust the testimony of Acts. It's not hard to see a link between the strategy of I Cor 9:19-23 and repeated expulsions from the synagogue. Paul was lashed by his people for serious reasons (II Cor 11:24), let's not forget, and he was accused of taking people in by deceit (II Cor 12:16). A face-value reading of I Cor 9:19-23 squares with the deceiver I know from the Pauline corpus.

Nanos is right that we shouldn't be explaining away Paul's deceptions and hypocrisies as if they're okay for him. It's time to put away Chrysostom once and for all. But his own solution seems weighed down by the same motive -- to keep Paul clean from charges dating back to Porphyry. While Porphyry's hostility was a bit overblown (show me someone who doesn't lie and deceive about something), he at least knew what he saw. But decide for yourself. Nanos' proposal does admittedly work wonders for interpreting I Cor 8 & 10, and who knows, maybe the apostle was "purer" than people like me are willing to credit.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Female Bibliobloggers Revisited

April DeConick has resurrected the spectre of female bibliobloggers, and she's confident that the issue "has nothing to do with the area of [biblical] study". Here I think she's largely right.

As I explained years ago, men are a biologically self-aggrandizing lot, and it's really no surprise to see them dominating certain areas of the blogosphere. In many contexts we have strong impulses to make ourselves look good (while women tend to like making others feel good), and the blog is a perfect venue for self-aggrandizement. Women evidently don't care to draw attention to themselves as much (or at least in the same way) as men do. I'm not saying that blogs serve the sole purpose of feeding our male egos -- we blog for very positive reasons too -- but it sure has a lot to do with it.

When April insists that "women are great talkers to talk about their spirituality and religious traditions", she's absolutely right. My experience has been the same. But talking among friends and acquaintances is different from blogging. It's a more colloquial and egalitarian enterprise, less preachy, and less grandstanding. When we blog, we have the floor, and -- the invitation of comments not withstanding -- it's a monologue more than a conversation.

One of my commenters had pointed out something else, that men have stronger inclinations to "spend inordinate amounts of time in front of their computers", knowing from his job experience "that female software developers are vastly outnumbered by males though their work is just as good if not better". So that's probably another important difference.

April won't like any of this, because believe it or not, she thinks there actually are as many women bibliobloggers out there as men. They're just "invisible": they post on marginal subjects and are thus easily dismissed as unimportant. I share the skepticism of The Biblioblog Top 50 about this claim -- in fact I'm damn near positive it isn't the case -- though with April I reject the Top-50's idea that a "deeper, structural religious bias towards male authority" lies behind the discrepancy.

As with software engineers, women bibliobloggers are obviously just as competent, intelligent, and talented as the men (many of them more so). And they bring important ideas to the table that men can miss. I second Mark Goodacre's suggestion to encourage more women to blog, but I don't think we should be terribly surprised at the inevitable skewed ratios. We know there are inherent differences between the sexes, and the dearth of female bibliobloggers simply reflects some of them.

UPDATE: The Biblioblog Top 50 (who is of course N.T. Wrong, who is of course...) warns against blaming victims and getting into bed with "c-s" -- complimentarians, though a certain vulgarity is obviously intended at the same time. I do get a chortle out of Wrong's obsession with Balaam and the donkey from Num 22:21-35, which he has used before to hilarious effect.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

How Did Jonathan Love David?

Jim West mentions a book by Anthony Heacock due out in February 2010, Jonathan Loved David: Manly Love in the Bible and the Hermeneutics of Sex. I've been eyeballing this publication, oh, let's see, for about seven months now, though last time I looked it was slated for release this fall. From the blurb at Sheffield Phoenix Press:
"The relationship between the Hebrew heroes David and Jonathan has caught the attention of popular and scholarly writers alike. Yet there is little agreement about the nature of this relationship that speaks of a love between two men that 'surpasses the love of a man for a woman' (2 Sam. 1.26). Weighing the arguments of scholars including Nissinen, Stone and Zehnder, Heacock produces a meta-critical analysis of the many interpretations of the relationship between David and Jonathan, identifying three dominant readings: the traditional political-theological interpretation, the homoerotic interpretation, and the homosocial interpretation... Heacock turns the debate on its head by abandoning claims to historical veracity and embracing the input of the contemporary queer reader."
It promises to be stimulating (sorry), but I wonder about the merit of supplanting questionable exegesis with honest eisegesis. I'll be sure to review it this winter. In the meantime, congratulations to Anton are in order. He's a librarian, after all, and for that reason alone deserves the press.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Biblical Studies Carnival XLV

The forty-fifth Biblical Studies Carnival is up on Mike Koke's The Golden Rule. Mike did a great job, serving up parades, fireworks, a haunted house, and best of all a time machine -- speaking of all the Doctor Who I've been breathing lately on this blog. Someday I'll have to get back to biblical studies!