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:
   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:
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!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Movie Review: Apostle Paul - A Polite Bribe by Robert Orlando

I'm glad that I can get back to blogging. I was taken aback by how busy the 1st week of the Spring 2015 term was and missed already my aim to post regularly at least once a week here. Hopefully, I can get back on track, though I make no promises (note: posting 1x a week was not a new year's resolution!). I am teaching 4 classes this semester, and if I include a co-taught course on Reconciliation, Race and the Corinthian Correspondence with Paul De Neui (North Park's missiologist) in May (a 2-week mission trip to the Equateur province of Congo), that's a whopping 5 courses that I need to prep and teach. Ouch! But I'm all-in and ready to charge out of the gates with gusto as far as human agency, divine help, and prayer can take me. 
Purchase or rent the movie at amazon instant video
A preview/promo of the film can be watched here: 

   That said, I have been meaning to watch and review the recent documentary on the apostle Paul with the provocative title: Apostle Paul - A Polite Bribe (2014). I finally watched this and like it enough that I am currently requiring that my undergraduate Paul course and my seminary New Testament 2 class view the film. Their research project will involve an engagement with Orlando's central thesis on the purposes and motivations of Paul to collect, transport, and deliver an offering to the church in Jerusalem (mentioned explicitly by Paul in 1 Cor 16:1-4; 2 Cor 8:1-9:15; Rom 15:25-32; and likely Gal 2:1-10 though Bruce Longenecker would argue otherwise; and recorded by Luke in Acts 11:27-30 [famine impetus]; 21:17-26 [delivery of the collection]). 
    Orlando, if I did not miss anyone, interviews some 24 different New Testament scholars on the life and mission of Paul, using the Jerusalem collection as a kind of thematic thread to unite the interviews and illustrated narrations (using some impressive comic-motion style graphics) that reconstruct the historical Paul of Acts and his letters. It's a relative who's who of top names in the academy on Pauline studies, including (roughly in order of their 1st appearance): Paul Achtemeier, Ben Witherington, Candida Moss, Bart Ehrman, N.T. Wright, John Dominic Crossan, Jeffrey Bütz, Philip Eisler, Gerd Thiessen, Paula Fredriksen, Pamela Eisenbawn, Larry Hurtado, Neil Elliott, Elaine Pagels, Richard Horsley, Amy-Jill Levine, Robert Jewett, Troels Engberg-Pedersen, Dale Martin, John Reumann, Douglas Campbell, Victor Furnish, Daniel Boyarin and Edgar Krentz. Whew... did I miss anyone?
    Just to hear in person the above scholars offer their expertise on Paul is worth the price of admission. They together represent a wide range of confessional, ecclesial, and ideological commitments which range from conservative evangelical scholars to radical source critics. You get the whole spectrum. But while a range is represented by the choice of interviewees, and while the critical listener can glean from these interviews diverse and competing theories on Paul's missionary enterprises, the interviews themselves have been expertedly edited to promote one central thesis: that Paul's monetary offering functioned as some sort of "bribe" to assuage suspicions from a hard-line faction in Jerusalem (= the Judaizers of Gal 1-2) who did not consider Paul's Gentile churches full converts to Jewish-Christianity. How the offering functioned as a bribe was not clear in the film. Perhaps, Paul hoped that the acceptance of the offering by the Gentile converts by the famine-stricken Jerusalem church would also mean that the Jerusalem church accepted the donors as full members of God's people without the Jewish requirements of circumcision and food law observance. If so, this meant that Paul paid Jerusalem to by-pass the Jewish legal requirements and hence the subtitle, "a polite bribe." 
   However, if one simply reads the key texts in Paul (cited above) where he explains his own motivations for asking the Gentile churches to contribute to the Jersusalem collection, we read that 1) his Gentile churches could have simply wanted to help the poor in Jerusalem who were recovering from a horrible famine (mentioned in Acts 11:27-30) as a sign of their transformed lives and genuine conversion; or 2) the collection demonstrated that there was one church, Jewish and Gentile, united by their common fidelity to one Lord and one gospel, and so the needs of one were the concern and burden of the other; or 3) perhaps Paul saw in the collection an eschatological fulfillment of Isaiah (60:6-7) and other OT prophetic texts (cf. Micah 4:13) that promised a day when Gentiles would bring gifts to Jerusalem as an act of worship and recognition of Israel's one true God. There have been other suggestions by scholars like Klaus Berger that 4) the collection functioned to substitute for the cost of Jewish initiation rites required from Gentile converts to Judaism (a stretch in my opinion). Johannes Munck theorized that 5) Paul wanted the collection to draw Israel's attention to how the influx of Gentile converts into the church and somehow provoke Israel's jealousy and conversion to the gospel (less of a stretch, but still a stretch). This list of possible explanations is not exhaustive either. There could also be a non-competing coalition of several motivations that drive Paul to pursue the collection and deliver it (see Down's The Offering of the Gentiles). But the movie, unfortunately, really focuses on the idea of a polite bribe.
   So in the end, Orlando's thesis is not satisfying, and it creates more questions than answers. But the latter is not a bad result. In fact, his film is a fantastic segue into larger historical issues surrounding Paul and hence my keen interest to show the film in class and let it generate further discussion. 
   A number of other bibliobloggers share my same sentiments and evalution of the film, in varying degrees. Worth reading are the posts by Larry Hurtado, James McGrath, and Richard Fellows. Also check out the interview of Ben Witherington in the Lexington Herald, as well as his video question and answer session after a film viewing. Mark Goodacre posted a pre-showing interview with Orlando on his NT blog as well. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

New Year's Resolutions for the Scholar

As I think about new year's resolutions and commitments, I have two that I will attempt. One is a modification of Lee Iron's excellent suggested reading plans for the Greek New Testament (click on the link). Given the craziness of this 2015 with my finishing the WUNT monograph in the next few months, I think trying to read the GNT in one year is just not going to work. But if you take Lee Iron's 2-year plan, ignore the dates, and just check off all the Pauline texts as you get through them one at a time, I believe a modest goal for myself to read through (again) all of the Pauline letters is a reachable new year's resolution for 2015.
Our making Korean dumplings at home on New Year's Eve
for a traditional dish called dduk-gook (a dumpling+rice cake soup)
    Secondly, an exercise routine. My son showed me an alarming video (a short 3 min) of the dangers of sitting too long, which is a definite occupational hazard for any scholar. According to the video, sitting for six hours total (that's it! I sit at least that much if not more!) in any given day is bad for your health. Ouch! When I'm writing, I'm often oblvious to time until my wife angrily shakes me from my focused trance and reminds me to do household chores, pick up the boys from their after-school activities, or call it a night and go to bed! And especially since I have been eating way toooooo much food this winter break (i.e., Korean food and dumplings!), the video is sobering to say the least. The health(-scare) video is below and the persons who created it have other science tutorials on their youtube channel. 

   Warning: watching the video can scare you into exercising more! 

Finally, this is not really a resolution as much as a spiritual tradition in the Lee family household to pick a Bible text as a the key verse of the year. Mine is Psalm 23:1 - "The Lord is my shepherd, and I lack for nothing." Personally, I want 2015 to be a year when, no matter how tough life gets, no matter the unexpected challenges thrown my way, in the end all I need is to abide in Christ and follow with reckless abandon the Chief Shepherd who has shown himself faithful, time and time again. 
   May you all experience the joy of having Christ and therefore lacking in not one thing this 2015. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year this 2015!

Everyone, blessings to you and your family this New Year's Eve! I can't believe how fast 2014 rolled in and rolled out. It was a little over a year ago in December 2013 that I started the Paul Redux blog and had no idea how it would evolve or whether I would continue with it. Except for the final exam crunch this past month, for the most part, I have been able to keep with my modest goal of one post per week and even produced my first video production with the Klyne Snodgrass interview.
The Year of the Ram 2015
    If you have any suggestions on topics or issues you would like me to address in Pauline studies, let me know and I would be happy to get to them some time in 2015. Become a subscriber and post a reply to this post to submit suggestions. 
    Otherwise,  many many thanks to all who have visited, stumbled upon, anonymously subscribed, and regularly read this blog! (with a special shout-out to my current and past students... you're the reason why I started this in the first place). Happy 2015! 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Video Interview with Klyne Snodgrass

Today I had the privilege to interview Klyne Snodgrass, the Paul W. Brandel Professor of New Testament Studies, on the 3rd floor of Nyvall Hall, in an office he has occupied for four decades, where many a conversation has taken place. It was truly a joy to do this and to celebrate with a mentor, colleague, and dear friend a lifetime of faithful service to North Park Theological Seminary and the Evangelical Covenant Church. 

Nyvall Hall with its steeple in the background
from the Johnson Center on the North Park University campus

The questions I asked of Klyne were as follows (with the time stamp): 
  1. How did you feel to have received a Festschrift in your honor? (0:33)
  2. How does a scholar and pastor "do theology for the church"? (2:14)
  3. What kind of scholar and teacher have you tried to be? (3:34)
  4. What legacy and challenge do you leave with us (= the seminary and the church)? (5:17)
  5. What has been the greatest joy and greatest struggle of your vocation? (6:48)
  6. What are your immediate and long-term plans, vocationally and personally? (8:51)
  7. Any last words you would like to share with us, and especially to your family? (10:49)
The entire interview is a lean 13:20 minutes long. Feel free to watch the video below or click the youtube link where it is posted. 
   I hope you will all be blessed as much as I was from hearing Klyne's testimony and words of exhortation. 

Post-script: I have to confess it was more work than than I thought to pull off the video interview, especially with the media equipment at hand (= Logitech HD 615 videocam; lapel mic, laptop). Many thanks to Zach Martinez, my teaching assistant, for his help in doing the camera work. He did a fantastic job. Production was all done by myself using Audicity software to improve the audio, and Microsoft Movie Maker to edit the video, add music and captions, and the like. Fun to do, but I'm not sure if I can make a career from this. MJL

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Festschrift for Klyne Snodgrass Honoring 40 Years of 'Doing Theology for the Church'

It's been a while since my last post (and many apologies for the delay!) but as soon as I got back from SBL-San Diego, I ran into the notorious 100-yard dash to final exams: wrapping up lectures, grading last-minute papers and assignments, writing the final exams, giving the final exams, and now... sigh... grading the final exams. But I hope to get back to my weekly posting once I turn in the grades (and then Christmas... but wait a minute! what happened to Advent? I missed it?)
   But for this post, I wanted to give a shout-out to the recently published Festschrift dedicated to a colleague (and in many ways also a mentor) at North Park Theological Seminary: Dr. Klyne Snodgrass, the Paul W. Brandel Professor of New Testament Studies. The collection of essays celebrates Klyne's 70th birthday. 
   The book was announced first as a genuine surprise back in May 2014 at North Park's graduation ceremony. NPU wrote a nice article celebrating Klyne's 40-year ministry of teaching, scholarship, and discipleship of the next generation of Christian leaders for the church, and Klyne's family flew in from different parts of the U.S.A. to surprise him when a framed photo of the Festschrift cover was presented to him. 
   At the Friday night session of IBR (= the Institute of Biblical Research) in San Diego, we handed Klyne the first printed copy of the Festschrift hot off the press from Covenant Publications and Wipf & Stock. Here is a photo of Klyne at IBR surrounded by colleagues and friends, including myself: 
Presentation of a Festschrift to Dr. Klyne Snodgrass on the occasion of
his 70th Birthday at IBR in San Diego (Nov. 21, 2014)
Now for the details about the book, entitled: Doing Theology for the Church: Essays in Honor of Klyne Snodgrass (2014). The book is divided into 5 sections (17 essays total), all featuring the varied interests and areas of research of Klyne: I. Gospel and Parables, II. Paul, III. OT in the New (= Inner-Biblical Intepretation), IV. Women and Ministry, and V. Identity. The list of contributors include colleagues at North Park, former students now either in doctoral programs or teaching as professors themselves, and an international array of friends who have interacted with Klyne's work and known him personally for years, including: N.T. Wright, Darrell Bock, Richard Longenecker, Jan du Rand, John Painter, Scot McKnight, Robert Hubbard, Jr., Robert Johnston, James Bruckner, Paul Koptak, Stephen Chester, Jay Phelan, Max Lee, Rebekah Eklund, Jo Ann Deasy, Hauna Ondrey, and Ekaterina Kozlova, with a comprehensive bibliography compiled by Stephen Spencer. Here is a preview of the table of contents (below): 
Table of Contents (click photo to zoom)
   It was edited by a former student of Klyne and NP alumnus, Dr. Rebekah Eklund, currently an Assistant Professor of New Testament at Loyola University Maryland, and Dr. Jay Phelan, Senior Professor of Theological Studies at North Park Theological Seminary. Dr. Paul Koptak, the Paul and Bernice Brandel Professor of Communication and Biblical Interpretation at North Park, also did much editing work for the volume with the fantastic staff and team at Covenant Publications led by managing editor Jane Swanson-Nystrom. The book is co-published by Covenant Publications and Wipf & Stock. You can purchase a copy at the W&S website or on amazon
   I will be doing something adventurous next week: I will be video-interviewing Klyne (disclaimer: using very modest equipment with the help of my TA) and posting that interview here on this blog. I will ask him for his response about receiving the Festschrift as well as to reflect on his past 40 years of scholarship, teaching, and ministry for the church. So more to come and stay tuned! 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Back from SBL-AAR 2014

It's been a week since the Society of Biblical Literature and American Academy of Religion conference in San Diego. I went to some very informative, some inspiring, sessions. I also caught up with many colleagues and friends whom I don't get to see except at the annual meeting. There was also the Festschrift presentation to Klyne Snodgrass during the Institute of Biblical Research gathering on Friday evening (11/21). The book, Doing Theology for the Church, was ready for the book tables of Wipf & Stock by the the time of the meeting. It looked like they were selling well, too. 
   I'll post separately on the Festschrift for Klyne and on some of the sessions which I thought were particularly helpful for the study of Paul in his wider Mediterranean context. But as a prelude to the fantastic time I had at SBL, here are some photos of the jogging route I took while I was there. Chris Spinks over at the Wipf & Stock blog Running Heads posted a map of a jogging path as a way to enjoy the boardwalk and ocean air of San Diego. His group was going to start running at 7am on Saturday (11/22) but I needed to meet someone at 8am, so I followed his suggested route at 6am. It was glorious! I made it a prayer run and it really fed my soul. Here are some pics below and I'll follow up with a succession of posts on my time at SBL in the days ahead.
Photo of the Sun Rising on the San Diego Boardwalk
Here was the route I took as suggested posted by Chris: 
I made it passed the pier, the Midway aircraft carrier, and the "pirate" ship before having to head back to catch my 8am meeting. About 4 miles round trip. Perfect!