Sunday, November 16, 2014

SBL-AAR 2014 San Diego Preview

I was planning to do a few posts on magic and miracles in Acts called "Paul the Magician?" as a follow-up to my Alcinous post on competitive acculturation, but this will have to wait until after I come back from the annual meeting in sunny San Diego, California, that is coming up next weekend (Nov. 21-24, 2014). The Society of Biblical Literature and American Academy of Religion meets each year for a conference which features papers read on cutting-edge research issues in biblical studies, religion and theology. Last year, I read a paper for the Biblical Lexicography group on Paul's use of righteousness language in its Greco-Roman context (now published in Seyoon Kim's Festschrift). But this year, I'm only presiding over one session of the Intertextuality and New Testament Interpretation Section for which I'm a steering committee member. This session has the theme: "Intertextuality and Gender in the New Testament" (S22-223) and features two papers by:
  1. Alice Yafeh, Azusa Pacific University and Frederico A. Roth, Azusa Pacific University
    Vision and Re-Envision: Re-Tracing the Social Justice Relationship between Hannah and Mary’s Songs (60 min)
  2. Kay Higuera Smith, Azusa Pacific University
    Feminist Intertextual Explorations: Mary as Intertextual "Signifier" in The Protevangelium of James (25 min)
SBL-AAR Program Book cover for Nov 2014
   Having perused through the catalogue, I've already mapped out my schedule for what sessions I'm going to attend. Here are some highlights of sessions I'm interested in: 

Friday afternoon (Nov 21): S21-201 - Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination (12:30-5:30pm). This will probably be the highlight of the entire meeting and everything after that will be anti-climatic. The roster includes: M.C. de Boer, N.T. Wright, Loren Struckenbruck, Philip Ziegler, Michael Gorman, Edith Humphrey, Douglas Campbell, Beverly Gaventa, and John Barclay! It's a stellar line-up of well-renowned scholars in New Testament studies. Ben Blackwell, who helped organize the session, has already blogged about the session and has paper titles, etc. over at his co-authored blog Dunelm Road. Be sure to click the link and peruse through the paper titles. 

Friday evening: P21-401 - Institute for Biblical Research Annual Lectureship (7-9pm). Craig Keener, well-known for his work in primary source material across the Jewish and Greco-Roman world of the early imperial period, will give a paper (based on his well-received 2011 2-volume work on Miracles) entitled: "Miracles: Philosophic and Historical Plausibility." Having just had a discussion with North Park seminarian students on miracles and how the biblical corpus helps us recognize the miraculous in our day and age, especially as the church encounters and experiences the supernatural, both God-given and sometimes demonic in origin, I'm keen to hear Craig on how he tries to reconcile the reality of miracles in the biblical corpus with the skepticism toward the supernatural in a (North American) scientific and post-scientific cultural context. 

Saturday (Nov 22): It's slim pickings on Saturday morning. At a very subjective level, none of the papers read for the 9-11:30am sessions really grab my interest or are relevant to my research/teaching agenda. So I might wander the book exhibit for the morning session, check in with Mohr-Siebeck for which my own monograph is contracted, or find myself walking back and forth between the Paul and Politics section, the Pauline Epistles section, or the Social Scientific Criticism of the New Testament (the latter of which features the theme "Food in Antiquity"). 
   In the afternoon, I'm committed to presiding over the "Intertextuality and Gender in the New Testament" session (mentioned above) from 1-3:30pm.
   In the evening session (4-6:30pm), I'll be wandering around again between papers that I'm intent on hearing but unfortunately are spread around between different sessions. For example, in the Paul and Politics section, Laura Nasrallah is giving a paper on: "How Do Paul's Letters Matter for a Political Philosophy?" (4:10-4:32pm), in the Rhetoric and the New Testament section, Katherine Shaner is presenting on: "Seeing Rape and Robbery: Harpagmos and the Philippians Christ Hymn" (4:55-5:20pm), or should I just stay for the Soren Kierkegaard Society session on Kierkegaard's use of the Passion Narratives the entire time (P22-343a)? 

Sunday (Nov 23): Sunday always starts off for me with a time of worship with the Institute of Biblical Research worship service from 7:30-8:30am (P23-103). I remember the day, before the IBR worship service was there, when I was always scrambling on Sunday morning trying to find a church service to attend. I'm very grateful that IBR has continued to provide a place of worship on Sunday's for its members! 
   Sunday morning I'm off to the Theological Interpretation of Scripture section (9-11:30am) which features papers on the continuing influence and legacy of Rudolph Bultmann. The papers are based on a collection of essays published by Baylor University Press entitled: Beyond Bultmann: Reckoning a New Tesatment Theology (2014). I guess one could argue that a person could simply read the essays in the book rather than attend the session, but I always found it valuable to attend such sessions because often the speakers add more content or provide a (biographical) context to their work. Certainly the Q&A ought to raise new concerns not addressed in the essays. The speaker line-up is fantastic: Joel Green is presiding, Bruce Longenecker is providing an introduction to the session (he also edited the book), and then papers from John Barclay, Richard Hays, Francis Watson, and Angela Standhartinger
   For the Sunday afternoon session, there is really only one paper I'm intent on hearing, and that is from my dissertation supervisor (= Doktorvater; don't know if Doktormater is common nomenclature yetJudy Gundry at Yale Divinity School who is writing a monograph on 1 Cor 7 and will be reading a paper for the Jewish Christianity / Christian Judaism section (S23-227) entitled: "Junia.. 'Prominent among the Apostles' (Rom 16:7), Paul 'the Least of the Apostles' (1 Cor 15:9): Equality or Hierarchy of Jewish Christian Apostles?" (1:05-1:30pm). After her paper, I may run over to the Pauline Epistles section to hear the 2nd half of the session which features N.T. Wright, Pamela Eisenbaum, and Ward Blanton as the respondents to two papers read by Matthew Gordley "Psalms of Solomon and Pauline Studies," and Hans Svebakken, "Romans 7:7-25 and a Pauline Allegory of the Soul." 
   Sunday evening (the 4-6:30pm block), I'm torn. It always happens. There are two sessions I want to go to that are happening at the same time. The Corpus Hellenisticum Novi Testamenti (S23-309) has a special session on "Plutarch and the New Testament Revisited" featuring papers from Rainer Hirsch-Luipold, David Aune, Frederick Brenk, and a response from Hans Dieter Betz. BUT the Korean Biblical Colloquium has a two plenary papers from the past presidents of KBC: Won Lee, OT professor from Calvin College, is giving the paper: "Does God Deceive? A Rereading of Jacob's Wrestling Match" and my 2nd Doktorvater Seyoon Kim, NT professor from Fuller Theological Seminary, is presenting on: "Paul's Gospel of Justification and Jesus' Gospel of God's Kingdom." I'll probably hear the first two papers at the Plutarch Revisited session and then jam over to KBC to hear Dr. Kim's paper on Paul and Jesus. 

Monday (Nov 24): I'm heading over to the Fuller Theological Seminary alumni breakfast early morning and then packing it up to go home early. I'm not staying beyond Monday. 

   Running around SBL will be my exercise routine for this coming weekend. However, if any of you who read this blog happen to be at San Diego this year for the annual meeting, and if you happen to catch me in a session, sitting down somewhere, or running around from one place to another, please stop by and say "hello!" I would love to chat with you about the Paul Redux blog and your own work! Safe travels for all who are attending SBL-AAR this coming weekend. Peace!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Bill Maher on the Heart of the (Christian) Liberal Arts Education

Normally I don't click anything on the tab "popular on youtube," but one feature video clip caught my eye because it highlighted my undergrad alma mater U.C. Berkeley (Go Bears!). I entered Berkeley as a pre-med English major back in 1986 and graduated with the class of 1991 (with an interm year as an English teacher and short term missionary to Japan in 1990). In 1986, it was at the peak of the Berkeley protests against Apartheid in South Africa. I remember the protests vividly and became quickly enthralled with the free speech movement, its history and practice, on the campus. 
Free Speech Demonstration in front of Sproul Hall at
the University of California, Berkeley, in the mid/late-1980's
image credit: Regional Oral History Office of UCB
Apparently the (in)famous talk show host Bill Maher of RealTime with Bill Maher was asked to be the commencement speaker for the December graduating class of 2014 at Cal Berkeley. Some have urged U.C. Berkeley officials to rescind their invitation in light of some comments he made concerning Islam that they found offensive. I can't say that I'm a big fan of Maher, and some of his caricatures of Christianity are inaccurate and hyperbolic in my opinion (though he at times does point out some real issues of hypocrisy so we can learn from the man!). I'm not a political liberal, nor am I a conservative. I vote on issues and across party lines.
   However, I did think his short 3 1/2 minute excursis on the nature and purpose of liberal arts education was a fantastic segue into a deeper conversation on the Christian liberal arts curriculum. You can watch the video below: 

   Bill's best line is: "Whoever told you that you only had to hear whatever did not upset you?!" (2:20). I showed this clip to my undergraduate Paul course before we move to the 3rd leg of the course: themes and major issues of contemporary importance in the Pauline letters. I exhorted my class to learn how to exchange ideas and hear the other person, even a person's ideas with whom we strongly disagree, and let the exchange lead to a deeper discourse so both parties can benefit and learn from each other. 
   I'm not a fan of censuring or silencing a critic. There are ways to voice disagreement that lead to further dialogue and understanding, rather than stifle them. If there are bad ideas in circulation and popularized by our North American culture, then the solution to bad ideas is not censorship. It is replacing bad ideas with better ones. That is the nature of a liberal arts education.
   For the Christian, the church needs to finds ways to enter the public forum, fight for its religious freedom, and not let itself be censured. The contribution that the church can make to public policy and programming can help our neighbors understand themselves more critically. Hearing our neighbors helps us test the basis of our convictions and see ourselves more clearly as well. Hopefully we can return to the roots of the liberal arts education and present a distinctly Christian voice and contribution to public dialogue on issues that are dear to us all. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Competitive Acculturation, Part 2: Alcinous and the Stoics on Good Emotions

[Warning! going turbo nerd again:] Remember that in a previous post (long ago, in a time far far away...[here]) I cited Thiessen’s definition of competitive syncretism as: “Rivals in the marketplace in part resemble one another ... They have to 'imitate' one another in order to outdo one another in the imitation” (A Theory of Primitive Religion; p. 49). In this earlier post, I used Thiessen’s definition as a template and but jettisoned the problematic term ‘syncretism’ to give the category competitive acculturation. Here in this post, I would like to give an example of competitive acculturation from ancient philosophical discourse (a long overdue post).
   Here is a quotation from the Middle Platonist Alcinous in his handbook on Platonism entitled the Didaskalikos. Here he pokes fun at his rivals, the Stoics, on what constitutes the basis for human flourishing (εδαιμονα):
  • Contemplation (θεωρα), then, is the activity of the mind when it intelligizes the intelligibles, but practice (πρξις) is the activity of the rational soul which happens through the body. The soul which contemplates the divine and the thoughts of the divine is said to be in a good state (επαθεν), and this state of the soul is called ‘wisdom’ (φρνησις), and this, one may say, is none other than assimilation to the divine.Alcinous, Didask. 2.2 (= Whittaker 153.2–9; Eng. trans. follows Dillon, Alcinous, p. 4)
The key word that is the hinge text for competitive acculturation is επαθεν. In the thematic context of  the passage: when are human beings at their best? (you can call it “living according to virtue” like the Stoics, or call it “assimiliation to the divine” as the Middle Platonists do), the Stoics and Platonists had contrasting views on the τλος or end/goal of life. The Stoics believed if we extirpated harmful emotions completely, and are ruled only by rational good emotions called the επθειαι, then we can live life according to virtue and be fully human.
   According to the Stoics, the sage could experience some “good emotions” or “good affective states” called επθειαι – i.e., joy (χαρ), willfulness (βολησις), and caution (ελβεια) – which stood as the positive counterparts to the harmful the passions of the soul which threaten to derail human life and character, namely, pleasure, lust, fear and grief. That is, joy stood as the positive counterpart to pleasure, willfulness to lust/desire, and caution to fear, with no apparent equivalent επάθος corresponding to grief (see Diogenes Laertius, Lives 7.116; Cicero, Tusculan Disputations. 4.12-14; note: Cicero translates επθειαι as constantiae or "stable states").
Roman copy (1st cent. AD) of a Hellenistic original (200 BC)
Head of Chrysippus, 2nd successor of the Stoa
Photo taken by Max Lee © 2010 British Museum
   So here is the punchline: in philosophical discourse, the Stoics own the language of the επθειαι. It would be impossible for the philosophically informed reader to miss the allusion then of Alcinous to the Stoic doctrine of the good emotions with his use of the word επαθεν especially in the context of the discourse: what does it mean to flourish as a human being.
   Alcinous effectively says the Stoics are wrong. Good emotions are inadequate. We do not reach our potential until we participate and commune with the divine through the process of contemplation (θεωρα = how the mind sees the transcendent world and models its life after what it sees). Ethical practice (πρξις) is important but secondary to the contemplative life which provides a paradigm for moral living. If we see what beauty, goodness, and justice is in the transcendent Forms of Beauty, Goodness, and Justice, then we can shape our souls and govern society according to the beauty, goodness and justice we see.
   So the example or case for competitive acculturation works if one can demonstrate that:
  1. a particular group (philosophical, political or religious) owns the terminology or language like the Stoics did for the terms επθειαι επάθος
  2. a rival group uses the same language in a literary context that evokes the discourse of their competing interlocutors (in this case, what is the τλος or end/goal of life? what is human flourishing?)
  3. the rival group offers an alternative solution or thesis in contradistinction to the solution offered by the other group (Alcinous posits theoria as the key to human flourishing not the good emotions of the Stoics)
  4. often times there is a double entendre or word play: “the good state” (επαθεν) of a human being is not the Stoic good emotions (επθειαι) and extirpation of the passions but the Platonic mind’s assimilation to the divine. 
The question, then, is with Paul’s use of such charged words as εαγγλιον (gospel), ερνη (peace), κριος (Lord), σωτρ (Savior), κτλ., did Paul consciously pit his gospel against the good news of the imperial cult? Did the imperial cult own this language? or do these terms find wider currency elsewhere? Going beyond whether Paul had an anti-imperial gospel or not, do current claims to find any Greco-Roman allusion in Paul which are competitive meet all or some of the above conditions distilled from Alcinous’ interaction with his Stoic rivals?
   We are still, in the end, just scratching the surface of how methodologically do we approach the problem and detection of Greco-Roman allusions in Paul, but I thought this example would give us some food for thought to move forward on the issue.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Need to Recharge but I Will Be Back!

Whew! I never thought writing out grant applications would be so labor-intensive but for the most part, I spent the entire Spring reading week either writing my monograph or drafting my proposal for some grants. I'm pooped! I need a recharge since my batteries are running low...
BayMax: Feeling Low on Energy... My Batteries Need Recharging
(Screen capture from the trailer to Disney's upcoming Big Hero 6 movie)
I have a Sabbatical semester off in the next academic year but I would like to extend that to another semester and hence the grant proposal writing. In any case, let me catch my breath and I'll be back to blogging soon. But right now, I feel like BayMax from the upcoming Big Hero 6 movie (photo above; trailer here). Peace!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Selfie and Shelfie from the Classics Reading Room

I'm behind in my writing schedule, so I'm here in the Classics Reading Room at the University of Chicago this late Friday night working on a monograph and trying to write some grant proposals as well. Though this is not my first time to the Regenstein library on the UofC campus, I have to say, every time I come to do research here, I just marvel at their classics collection. Behind me is every primary source for Philodemus available in print all on one shelf and in the lower left corner is the entire set of Galen's Opera Omnia, and to the right upper corner are edited volumes for the hellenistic Stoic Posidonius, and so on. In short, everything I could ever dream of having in one place is right here with me in the reading room. I wish I could live here but I have a family to go back to at home.
   Nevertheless, I thought I would include a selfie of me working here, and shelfie of just one part of the reading room. 
A shelfie of the Classics Reading Room at the University of Chicago
with my laptop, caffeine supply, and notes up front

Selfie: all work, no play,
but don't call me Jack
By the way, since I'm behind on my research, I'll probably not start posting again on Paul Redux until another week. In the meanwhile, there is still a chance to vote on the next series (vote here). If I get no takers/votes, I might just opt to do something random each week rather than focus on either the ancient war machine or ancient traveling. We shall see!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Paul Redux Passes 15,000+ Pageviews

A Byzantine fortress on the Acrocorinth in Greece
and the background photo of the Paul Redux twitter feed
Photo taken by Max Lee © 2014 Acrocorinth
Well, it might be small numbers and a small accomplishment to many, but I'm quite delighted to celebrate a pleasant surprise: today, the Paul Redux blog reached 15,000+ pageviews! I'm glad that so many find the blog helpful, including current and past students, and new friends. It has also received a fair number of international readers. Here's a breakdown of the top 10 countries that have viewed the blog: 
Top 10 Countries reading Paul Redux (Oct 2, 2014)
Also, the most read post was the one entitled "More Pastoral Reflections on the Life of the Slave." Apparently there were many interested in my small diagram on the Roman patronage system and might have been surprised to find my discussion of it framed around Paul's letter to Philemon. 
Top 10 read Posts on Paul Redux (Oct 2, 1014)
In any case, and excuse the pun!, thanks for your patronage... now if I only I can encourage some of the many anonymous readers to also become subscribers. But regardless, cheers!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Apocalyptic Paul and Divine Initiative

This past Thursday Sept. 25th, on the 2nd day of the 2014 Nils W. Lund Memorial Lectureship, Dr. Beverly Gaventa, Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Baylor University,  gave two lectures on Paul's letter to the church at Rome. 
   In the first lecture, entitled "What Part of the Word "All" Don't We Understand?" Gaventa gives an apocalyptic reading of Romans, from beginning to end, highlighting points in the text where transformations (in life and the human condition) take place. Much in the spirit and exegetical legacy of Karl Barth, Ernst Κäsemann, and J. Louis Martyn (her doctoral supervisor), Gaventa emphasizes the essentiality of divine initiative, because the anti-God powers of Sin and Death have so thoroughly enslaved humanity that no amount of repentance will change the human condition. 
   Focusing on Romans 3, and seeing in Rom 5-8 a recapitulation of the same themes in Rom 1-3 but at a larger cosmic scale, in her own words, Gaventa offered this challenge: "The human problem is larger than that which can be handled by repentance and forgiveness. Slaves cannot repent their way out of slavery. They can only be liberated. Salvation is not about being forgiven but being delivered by God." 
   Gaventa then gives a really poignant illustration by comparing the sociological and psychological slavery of the child-soldier as an analogue to the kind of slavery experienced under the rule of Sin and Death. There is more to share, but I'll let you hear from Gaventa herself via the video link (below). 
Professor Beverly Gaventa delivering the first of two Lund Lectures
in Isaacson Chapel at North Park Theological Seminary
In the 2nd lecture, entitled "Free and Costly Grace," Gaventa caught me by surprise (in a good way!). Focusing on Rom 12, Gaventa argued that grace is free because Christ died for all (5:18; 8:32), but it is costly because having been liberated, the Christian worships God by becoming a "living sacrifice" (12:1). There is nothing easy or trite about worship. Genuine worship is returning to God what is God's. There is no limit to God’s claim on us. Worship leads to ethical living. 
   I thought this was a very powerful challenge to the church, and I deeply appreciated the prophetic call back to true worship that honors God where I don't throw my money into the coffers but instead "throw my whole body into the offering plate" (her words, not mine). 
   I did walk away with some questions, however, namely what role does human response to divine initiative have in Paul's soteriological scheme. In Gaventa's explanation, faith as trust does not appear to be a response that gets one into salvation. Faith is not an entry point. God saves all, but people have not heard about this good news yet. When they hear, and believe what they hear, they worship God for what he has done. And even here faith is a gift, not a human work. So the element of volition or choice plays a minimum role in this reading of an apocalyptic Paul. It's hard for me to think about faith as trust without including an element of volition or choice, though I would not reduce faith to just choice or cognitive assent. Faith is much more. 
   In any case, all I can say is: wow! Fantastic lecture and pastoral challenge! So grateful that Dr. Gaventa was here at North Park to share her work and words with us. To listen to her 2nd lecture yourself, again, see the video links below. Blessings!

Lecture 1: Jump to 3:55 to skip the introductions: 


Lecture 2: Video begins immediately with the lecture: