Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Post-Screening Discussion of A Polite Bribe at SBL 2014

A week ago, I received an email from Robert Orlando, the director and producer of the movie documentary Apostle Paul - A Polite Bribe, informing me that the post-screening discussion between him, Ben Witherington, and Larry Hurtado is up on vimeo for public viewing. At the Society of Biblical Literature meeting in San Diego, there was a showing of the film to the scholarly community (on the evening of Nov. 22nd, 2014). The dialogue which took place afterwards can be found below:


APB Post Screening SD from A Polite Bribe on Vimeo.

   I have not watched all of it yet, but it looks good at first glance. Both Hurtado and Witherington are very judicious and thoughtful scholars, and we also get a glimpse into the motivations and aspirations which spurred Orlando to pursue this project, for the benefit of many. 
   Here is also a link to my own blog review of the film. 
Book edition of the film (with notes!)
available for purchase at amazon
Lastly, in case anyone wished the film had footnotes for where its ideas were originating from, Orlando has published a book version of his thesis through Wipf & Stock Publishers. Click the link above to purchase it through amazon. Enjoy!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Proposals, Panels, and Exams

The end of February through early March has been a tough dry spell from blogging. I have several half-finished posts in the queue but have been delayed with: 1) grading 35 undergraduate papers, 2) grading 35 undergraduate quizzes, 3) grading 30 seminary New Testament 2 midterms, 4) grading 30 seminary papers, 5) grading 20 Greek II midterms, and then 6) I flew away this weekend to sunny/rainy/humid Orlando, Florida to attend the Association of Theological Schools Roundtable events for Ethnic/Racial and Midcareer Faculty (Mar 5-8, 2015). The rountables, by the way, were fantastic. I participated in a panel on collaborative projects, but also learned much from colleagues in the area of post-tenure research, teaching, administrative service, and formation (more on this in future posts).
Screen capture of INTI paper proposal statistics (Click to enlarge)
   Now, I have to read through 34 paper proposals submitted to the the Intertextuality and New Testament Interpretation Section (I'm a co-chair) for the SBL meeting in Atlanta this November 2015. Wow! I think this year is the most proposals we have received since we first started as a consultation group back in 2008. 
   In other words, I have to finish reading the proposals and some full papers before I can get back to blogging again. Stay tuned!  

Friday, February 20, 2015

Book Notice: Paul and the Gift by John M.G. Barclay

It looks like Eerdmans is finally going to publish soon the long-awaited monograph by Prof. John Barclay, the Lightfoot Professor of Divinity for the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University, with the official title: Paul and the Gift. You can read the initial description of the book directly from the Eerdmans website here, and its tentative release date is October 16, 2015 (although both Amazon and Barnes&Noble have the earlier date of August 13, 2015).
Tentative Release Date - Oct 16, 2015
If you recall, way back in May 2014, I blogged on the address given by Barclay for the inauguration of St. Mary's Centre for the Social-Scientific Study of the Bible. In the address, Barclay gives an epitome of the central thesis of his book. A little over a year later, the book will finally be available for the academic and wider reading audience. Can't wait! And yes, I do expect to give a detailed review of the book here on the Paul Redux blog.
    It also looks like the rumor that it would be 2 volumes, for now, is not true. But it is a whopping 688 pages and easily could have been two books instead of one large tome. Starting price tag: $62.50 at Amazon and Barnes.

HT to Nijay Gupta and Torrey Seland

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Review: The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (NIDNTTE; 5 vols) by Moisés Silva

"Two steps forward and one step backwards..." is not new dance move but my succinct way of reviewing the 2nd edition of the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology andExegesis (henceforth NIDNTTE). Revised by Moisés Silva (click for an interview with him on the lexicon over at Matthew Montonini's NT Perspective blog), this 2014 five-volume update published by Zondervan is, in many ways, a marked improvement of its previous 1975-78 four-volume predecessor edited by Colin Brown.
The impressive 5 vol. NIDNTTE by Moisés Silva
   Let me comment on the two advances which the NIDNTTE makes. First, in terms of its lexical information, it is a thorough revision of how a particular word is used in its Greek, Jewish, and New Testament literary and historical contexts. In fact, each entry (alphabetized according to the Greek) begins with the history of early Greek meanings and ends with how a word is deployed in the secular discourse of the Roman period. Then the entry defines the unique uses of a word in the Greek Old Testament or Septuagint as it translates the Hebrew. Finally, the entry describes how the New Testament writers, given the range of meanings for a particular word, often depend on the Septuagint for its definitions. 
    The second advance is the dependency of NIDNTTE upon the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, and other Jewish literature to draw out the meanings for New Testament words. This is biblical theology at its best. Silva demonstrates a linguistic savvy when he traces the theological continuity between the Old Testament and the New without committing the mistake of confusing Gundbegriff (or the larger concept to which a word points) with its basic definition (what the word means) in context. 
     I do wish, however, the dictionary would explore more thoroughly how the everyday use of Greek words contributes to the vocabulary of the New Testament. When, for example, Paul talks about hilastērion in Romans 3:25, the dictionary unsurprisingly defines the term as "atonement" in parallel with the Old Testament use of the Hebrew kippur as an "expiation" or "covering over" of sin. But hilastērion in Greco-Roman discourse can also mean "propitiate." Defined in this way, New Testament writers could be employing the word hilastērion to help explain how the death of Christ propitiates or satisfies the justice of God. To be fair, the NIDNTTE does describe the Koiné or common uses of hilastērion in its entry, but I fault the dictionary for not drawing out the theological implications of such usage. For a theological dictionary aimed at aiding exegesis and interpretation, the dictionary, at times, demonstrates too narrow a focus on Jewish backgrounds without due consideration to how Greek discourse might also inform the lexical choices of the New Testament authors.
    But my largest criticism concerns the format of the dictionary. The decision to partially abandon the original organization of the entries by semantic field in favor of an alphabetized listing is a step backward in my opinion. It is also a lost opportunity. 
    Take, for example, the concept of power
The older NIDNT by Colin Brown (1975-78)
Notice that the dictionary is organized by concept, with a very short beginning
paragraph describing how the different words in a semantic field relate before
giving a detailed definition/discussion of each word as with βία and its cognates
In the older edition (above), the dictionary listed out the definitions of kratos ("might"), ischys ("strength" or "power"), bia ("force"), and other lexemes all under the category: Strength, Force, Horn, Violence, Power (see above). This format immediately informs the reader that no one word can encompass an entire concept. One needs to identify an entire constellation of words and their meanings (what linguists call a "semantic field"), and then examine the discourse in which these words are found, to provide a comprehensive treatment of how New Testament authors understood the concept of power. A study on just a single word would leave out too much information and be misleading. Yet the new edition reverts back to single word, alphabetized entries. 
    Silva does provide a concise list of concepts at the beginning of the first volume (below), but it is a poor substitute for a more technical treatment of semantic fields. 
The new NIDNTTE by Moisés Silva (2014)
A list of concepts with English glosses
is given in the beginning of vol. 1
but missing is an needed analysis on
how the words relate in a semantic field
Let me explain. The older edition provided little discussion on how the different words in a semantic field relate to each other. What is the difference between kratos ("might"), for example, and ischys ("strength")? I have my suspicions on how to answer this question, but I would like to have seen the new edition provide an updated analysis. To date, we only have one lexicon that does this in any systemic way: that is, Louw's and Nida's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains. This new NIDNTTE edition could have taken the material of the older dictionary, incorporated the contributions made from Louw and Nida, and created a lexicon based on semantic fields that surpassed any of its predecessors or competitors. But alas, it does not. 
    So, at the end of the day, I would strongly recommend pastors, seminary students, and theologically trained leaders alike to purchase the NIDNTTE. I can imagine someone preparing for a sermon or Bible study, reading about a particular Greek word of importance that is highlighted by a commentary, and wanting to learn more about the word, then turn to the NIDNTTE to look up more information. I would suggest to also check the list of concepts with English glosses to see what other words belong to the same semantic field. As a lexicion, it is an excellent resource. 
    While I myself will likely refer to the NIDNTTE on a regular basis, and undoubtedly learn much from its volumous pages, a part of me also laments at what it could have been. I can only hope that a future third edition might dare explore the still uncharted territory of semantic field lexicography.

Postscript: the above review will be published in the next edition of the Covenant Quarterly

Monday, February 9, 2015

Awarded the Louisville Institute Sabbatical Grant for Researchers 2015-2016... PTL!

I was almost finished with a review which I was going to post (and still will soon!) when I received the official word from the Louisville Institute that I was awarded the Sabbatical Grant for Researchers for my project: Food, Sex, and Entertainment: Paul and the Epicureans on the Ethics of Pleasure
Marble bust of Epicurus (Roman copy)
Photo by Max Lee © 2010 British Museum
If you were following my ramblings in November, I mentioned that I was applying for two grants in the hope of securing a sabbatical research leave for the entire academic year of 2015-16. Well, I'm excited to share the news that one of my grant applications was approved, and I can plan to use the next year to write a second book on Paul and the Epicureans. The grant is funded by the Lilly Endowment and administered through the Louisville Institute in Kentucky. You can see the list of grant recipients for 2015-16, including myself, here, and an abstract of my project here
   Both personally and professionally, the grant award is a word of affirmation that my research on Paul in his ancient philosophical context offers an important contribution to the life and mission of the church. I'm eager to get started, but in this moment of exuberation I want to pause to say: "Hallelujah! Praise the Lord for his grace and provision!" and offer my many thanks to colleagues, family and friends for their unwavering support, prayers, and words of encouragement. Thank you!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Blizzard and Blogging

Well so much for whatever I planned for the weekend, including blogging... the minor blizzard that hit Chicago just changed my schedule. I'm spending most of the day shoveling snow and fighting off cabin fever at home with my sons. Actually, I'm going to put them to work and have them help me shovel. 
What happened to the road? Chicago's Northside
Photo credit: Max Lee © 2015
   It's also rare that North Park University cancelled the day's full schedule of classes for all faculty today. The campus is closed except for Helwig Gym and the Brandel library, and I'm sure all my students are celebrating with joy the extra day off. I, however, am scratching my head trying to figure out how to get my classes back on track with a day now gone. Ugh!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Herculaneum: Where Particle Physics and Papyrology Meet

I love what I do. Just when you think nothing can surprise you any more, something always lights up your horizon in the world of the ancient history and biblical studies. NPR just released a fascinating radio story on a major breakthrough in papyrological studies: using a particle accelerator developed in France, papyrologists are beginning to read the text off of a fossilized papyrus scroll without having to open it. You can listen to the radio show here, and read more from the technical published article on which the show is based at Nature Communications
Photo of a rolled up, charred scroll uncovered from the Herculaneum
library which was buried under volcanic ash in AD 70
Photo credit: www.npr.org
   Since my research agenda involves the intersection between ancient philosophical discourse and Paul, and my next major monograph will be on Paul and the Epicureans (right after I'm done with my 1st one.... almost there by the way!), I have been reading the philosophical writings of Philodemus uncovered from the ancient library at Herculaneum in Italy for some time. The villa of Piso (Julius Caesar's father-in-law) near the seaport of Herculaneum, along with the entire city of Pompeii just 9 miles south, if you recall, was buried under volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 70. Hopefully some of you had a chance to see the exhibit of Pompeii when it circulated nationally in the States back in 2006. It was stunning! and my sons and I had a great learning experience when the exhibit was displayed at the Field Museum in Chicago. 
   To appreciate the NPR article, let me digress a bit to explain succinctly the process that archaeologists and papyrologists undertake to reconstruct an ancient text from papyri. When I work with the ancient texts, I almost always deal with the published form, like this example from Richard Janko's Philodemus: On Poems, Book 1 (The Asthetic Works 1:1; New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 260
Print edition: P Herc 460, Column 67, lines 1-10
The above critical, published text is reconstructed, with conjectures on what the text might be in brackets since there are gaps or unreadable sections in the original papyrus.
    But in order for me to read the above, some enterprising papyrologist had to do the hard work of unrolling a brittle, charred scroll. As soon as you unroll the scroll, it starts to fall apart and you are left with hundreds of fragments that need to be carefully put together with the other fragments in correct order, much like how a person has to solve a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, but in this case, you might be missing many of the pieces, or some of the pieces are stuck together and you have to take them apart before finishing the puzzle. Here is the same text above but as a photo of its original fragment: 
Photo of P Herc 460, fragment 1
This piece, however, needs to be laid aside the other pieces to reconstruct the full text. Many times the texts are illegible and have to viewed under a multi-spectral, infra-red light in order to read the ink (click the link for a youtube video on the process). Without the infra-red light, it looks much more like a charred mess: 
Almost completely illegible charred Herc papyrus fragment
Photo Credit: The Friends of the Herculaneum Society
Fragments from an unrolled scroll put back together
Photo credit: www.npr.org
Often papyrologists double as artists and sketch their reconstructed texts in their notebooks. Here again is the same P Herc 460 fragment (highlighted in yellow) but hand-drawn and put to gether with other fragments:
P Herc 460, frag 1-4, redrawn by F. Casanova
(frag 1 is highlighted in yellow)
   What makes the NPR article, now, so exciting, is that with the particle accelerator and technique called "X-ray phase-contrast tomography," they can read the ink off the papyrus scroll without having to unroll it. This way, the rolled scroll is kept from potentially being destroyed by the unrolling process. The technique still needs further refinement but if all goes well, we might see previously unpublished scrolls accessible to the academy and public when their texts are reconstructed and made available in the print edition. I don't have the expertise to do any of the above, except to read the printed form of the texts. So I'll have to eagerly await along with everyone else what treasures can be unlocked when particle phyics and papyrology collide at Herculaneum!
   Want to watch a video demonstration of the process? See the youtube video demonstration below from the University of Kentucky lab team. Wow!