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!

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 Doktormutter 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: 

Friday, September 26, 2014

The 2014 Lund Lecture Kicks Off with the Song of Songs and Human Intimacy

On Wednesday Sept. 24, the 2014 Nils W. Lund Lectureship launched with an excellent set of lectures from Dr. Tremper Longman III, the Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies, at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif. 
   The first lecture, entitled: "Celebration and Warning: Sexual Intimacy in the Song of Songs," was a brilliant summary on the history of interpretation on the Song of Songs, where he demonstrated that the allegorical interpretation of the Song was quite late, beginning with Jewish interpreters like Rabbi Akiba (c.a. AD 100), continued through the Targum traditions (Song of Songs 1:2-4), and was popularized in Christian discourse by Hippolytus, Origen, Jerome, Bernard of Clairvaux and medieval interpreters.  He gave some hilarious examples of Christian allegorical readings: e.g., Hippolytus (AD 200) read the verse "My lover is to me a sachet of myrrh lodging between my breasts" (1:13) as meaning the beloved is the Bride of Christ, the church, and each breast represents the Old Testament on one side, and the New Testament on the other. 
    Some warnings from both Jewish and Christian traditions were poignant. Rabbi Akiba, for instance, stated that anyone who treats the Song of Songs, not as an allegory of God's love for Israel, but as a cheap love ballad to be sung in banquet halls "has no share in the world to come!" A literal reading damns the reader to hell! But read as an allegory, the Song of Songs becomes "the Holy of Holies." 
    The Westminster Assembly apparently warned that a literal reading likens the Song of Songs to "a hot carnal pamphlet formed by some loose Apollo or Cupid" rather than the beautiful story of the Bridegroom's (Christ's) unrelenting love for the Bride (the church). 
    Longman takes to task the allegorical reading and argues that the Song of Songs is not a plot-driven story but a collection of love songs, an anthology, which nevertheless has a collective literary and theological coherence. The Song is about human intimacy and sensuality, and more importantly how they might reflect the image of God. Longman ends the first lecture with some, in his words, "R-rated" translations of the Song (vs. his older, collaborative PG-13 translation with the New Living Translation committee), including Song of Songs 4:1-5:1. I'll let you hear him give the R-rated version via video link (below). As one audience member said: "The man did not blush!" when translating the Hebrew, all of which can also be found in his Song of Solomon commentary with NICOT. 
The 2nd lecture was entitled: "God Loves Sex: A Theological Reading of the Song of Songs." Again, you can listen to his lecture directly (link below) but by way of summary Longman talked about relational brokenness, healthy sexual expressions in a marriage context as well as deviant ones, and attempts to outline a biblical theology of human sexuality in dialogue with the rest of the Christian canon. It was a great way to kick-off the Lund lectureship and the Symposium on the Theological Reading of Scripture.
Prof. Longman chatting with North Park seminarians
at the end of the Lund Lectureship
For links to video recordings of the lectures, please see the following: 

Lecture 1: Jump to 6:09 to skip the introductions:

Lecture 2: Jump to 1:17 to skip the introductions: 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Ancient Traveling or the War Machine: Vote!

Bronze Corinthian helmet (ca. 5th cent. BC)
Photo taken by Max Lee © 2014 Museum of Corinth
Here are a couple of announcements for this blog:
  1. Throughout the week, I'll be posting on the Lund Lectureship and the North Park Symposium on the Theological Reading of Scripture (click for details). Especially if there are papers and lectures on the topic of Paul, his gospel, and theology, I will definitely make comments and provide links to video for anyone who wishes to hear the lectures themselves. The papers for the symposium will not be recorded (correction! there might be live-streaming for the papers and responses: here) but they will be published in the next issue of Ex Auditu and you can get a summary and review of some papers from my posts throughout this week. 
  2. Want to have a say on the next set of topics I pursue on this blog? I'll be taking a vote throughout the week of the Symposium. I was thinking of starting a series of blog posts on either the topic of ancient traveling (by foot, sea, etc.) or military warfare or it can be something else if anyone has a good suggestion. Which topic are you interested in? To vote, become a subscriber to this blog. Look to the left of this page and click the button "Join this site" under the heading "Followers." You can sign up using a google, yahoo, twitter, and other accounts. Then reply to this post indicating what topic you would like this blog to pursue. Vote: ancient traveling, military warfare, or other (name the topic). Also, it would be great if you gave a quick intro and let me know who you are and your own interests in the ancient world or anything Apostle Paul (but this is optional). That's it! I'll let people know of the results next week. 
Hope to hear from the many anonymous readers of this blog out there in the world-wide web! Blessings!
The Antikythera Mechanism used to navigate sea-waters
Photo taken by Max Lee© 2014 Athens Museum

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Souls of the Saints Unstained by Sin

Sometimes mistaken to be Plutarch himself,
the above is a statue of an unknown philosopher or priest (ca. 270 BC)
Photo taken by Max Lee © 2014 Museum of Delphi
Sometimes an ancient text does not have any direct literary (intertextual) parallels with the New Testament, and such is really the case for the passage from Plutarch's On the Delays of Divine Vengeance (De sera 565B-D), about which I wrote in my last post (here). Nevertheless, there are broad conceptual interactions between the symbolism of the soul stained by vice in Plutarch's account and the (deutero-)Pauline text of Ephesians 5:25b-27. Here are some thoughts.
  • For in the world below, vice puts forth colors (ἐκεῖ γὰρ ἡ κακία... τὰς χρόας ἀναδίδωσιν), as the soul is altered by the passions (τῆς τε ψυχῆς τρεπομένης ὑπὸ τῶν παθῶν) and alters the body in turn (καὶ τρεπούσης τὸ σῶμα), while here [=subluminary regions], the goal of purification (καθαρμοῦand punitary justice is reached when the passions are purged away (ἐκλεανθέντων) and the soul becomes luminous in consequence and uniform in color (τὴν ψυχὴν αὐγοειδῆ καὶ σύγχρουν γίνεσθαι - Plutarch, De sera 565C)
  • Eph 5:25b-27: ... Christ loved the church and gave himself up on her behalf in order to sanctify her, by  purifying her in the washing of water by the word (ἵνα αὐτὴν ἁγιάσῃ καθαρίσας τῷ λουτρῷ τοῦ ὕδατος ἐν ῥήματι), with the result that He might present to himself the church in glory who has no stain or wrinkle or anything of the kind (ἔνδοξον τὴν ἐκκλησίαν, μὴ ἔχουσαν σπίλον ἢ ῥυτίδα ἤ τι τῶν τοιούτων), but is instead holy and unblemished (ἀλλ᾽ ἵνα ᾖ ἁγία καὶ ἄμωμος). 
In the texts above, I tried to color code the conceptual ties (the lexemes are not the same though arguably they belong to the same semantic and cognitive domains) between Plutarch's and Paul's discourse as follows: 
  1. how vice alters/stains the soul is shown in red
  2. how the soul/church is purified and cleansed of vice/sin is shown in blue
  3. the purified soul/church symbolized as a kind of illuminescence is shown in orange
First the conceptual similarities: Both accounts speak to the reality that vicious or immoral action color/tarnish the soul. While there is nothing like Plutarch's multi-colored correlation of specific vices to a particular color, Paul nevertheless employs the metaphor of staining (σπίλον) to describe the effect of sin and like Plutarch likens moral transformation to a kind of purgation or cleansing of sin/error, though Paul does use a different set of lexemes (ἁγιάσῃ καθαρίσας τῷ λουτρῷ) to describe the process known as sanctification. The purified person is depicted in the language of illuminescence (αὐγοειδῆ) for Plutarch, and glorification for Paul (ἔνδοξον).
   However, beyond these broad strokes is a striking difference. The (religious) purging of vice, for Plutarch, does not happen while a person is alive. It takes place in the afterlife, as a disembodied soul, and only through a series of punishments by divine judges to purge wickedness by beating the evil out of a person. But Paul's gospel talks about the work of Christ, whose sacrifice and blood atonement, makes the cleansing of sin, evil, and vice an inaugurated reality now, in the present, which culminates in its fullest expression at a future resurrection. The reversal of sin's corrupting effect, though not complete until Christ's return, is nevertheless experienced immediately in the life of church as a condition made possible by atoning death of God's Son. And Christ did it out of love for the church. The purging of evil is not torturous punishment from the gods, but a gift of redemption by the One who gave himself up for us. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Plutarch on the Soul Scarred by Many Colors

I've been reading through Plutarch's treatise De sera numinis vindicta (= On the Delays of Divine Vengeance) which features the character Thespesius experiencing an out-of-body vision. 
   Thespesius narrαtes how the rational part of his soul walks through the subluminary regions of the (Platonic) cosmos and encounters several disembodied souls in the afterlife who are awaiting a kind of purification before they can escape the lower regions towards a higher level of existence, although some souls regress, sink down, and get reincarnated as animals (Plutarch, De sera 563D-568A). 
   Though a person might be able to conceal his passions and vices from others while alive and embodied, the disembodied soul is completely exposed for its true condition. If a person somehow committed wrongs and was never brought to justice in the earthly life, there is a reckoning after death. Thespesius so explains: 

  • But whoever comes here from the world below unpunished and unpurged, is seized by (the goddess) Justice (ἡ Δίκη), with the soul exposed and naked, having nothing by which to sink out of sight, or hide, or cover one's shame.... The scars and welts left by the different passions are more persistent in some, less so in others. Observe - he said - the mixture and diversity of colors in the souls (χρώματα τῶν ψυχῶν; 565B)

Apparently, according to this myth recorded by Plutarch, souls are scarred by the passions and vices (οὐλαὶ δὲ καὶ μώλωπες ἐπὶ τῶν παθῶν) and the scars/welts show up as various colors depending on the type of passion or vice that a person committed. Plutarch gives quite an extensive list in 565C on the correlation of a soul's color with the corresponding vice:  

  • So if the soul is a dirty brown (τὸ ὄρφνινος καὶ ῥυπαρόν) color, this stain is caused by greed (πλεονεξία)
  • A fiery-red (τὸ αἱμωπὸν καὶ διάπυρον) comes from savagery and bitterness (ὡμότητος καὶ πικρίας)
  • A blue-grey (τὸ γλαύκινον) signals some kind of incontinence in pleasure (ἀκρασία τις περὶ ἡδονάς)
  • A green (τὸ ἰῶδες) is from spite with a begrudging envy (κακόνοια μετὰ φθόνου)

Plutarch further describes how the souls are punished with pains and torments far beyond any physical whipping. However, the result of such chastisement is the purification or purging of the soul of all vice and passion so that eventually "the soul becomes luminous in consequence and uniform in color (τὴν ψυχὴν αὐγοειδῆ καὶ σύγχρουν γίνεσθαι)" (565D). 
Temple of Apollo at Delphi where Plutarch (ca. 40-120 AD) was a priest
Photo by Max Lee © 2014 Delphi
   There are so many fascinating observations that can be made from this passage. For one thing, again, the idea that the afterlife was a place where final justice was exercised is illustrated by the scene where the goddess Δίκη seizes souls and punishes them according to what their scars reveal about past crimes, vices, and passions. When Justice puts the souls on trial, they stand naked and exposed, unable to hide the scars left by their passions.
   Secondly, moral and immoral action shapes who we are and what we become. They leave a scar or welt on our souls. Almost like an ancient version of the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), Plutarch's narrative tells the tale of souls who are seen for what they really are. Forgive the pun, but their 'true colors' are shown in all their drab, dirty, ugly hues. We might undergo the illusion that pursuing vice has no effect on us as Dorian Gray thought, but as soon as the veil is uncovered, behind the curtain lies a vivid portrait of how greed, violent savagery, wanton pursuit of pleasure, and bitter spite has scarred our inner selves.
   Third, purity or perfection is symbolized as luminescence. It is such an interesting scene that the soul, once colored with vices, could through divine discipline be purged of evil and shine forth like the sun.
   I'm not sure if this text finds any parallels in Paul's thought or other NT texts. I just enjoyed reading this narrative for its own end. Give me a week and I'll post on any intertextual connections the Plutarch passage might have with the Pauline corpus. In the meanwhile, guard your soul and don't color it with vice. Peace!

* The Greek text and English translation (with some modifications) comes from Philip De Lacy and Benedict Einarson, Plutarch: Moralia (vol. 7; LCL; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959), 281. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Irritating Bite vs. the Sting Which Kills

It's been hard to blog with the start-of-the-semester madness, but finally, I can get back to my previous post on Philodemus' treatise On Death (Book IV). 
   There I wrote about how the Epicurean sage manages grief and fear by cutting out from a person's natural aversion to death whatever wrong ideas or superstitions he or she has attached to it. Philodemus is especially critical of associating with death the idea of divine judgment according to the myths of his day (κατὰ τοὺς μύθους); he would not be very receptive to the idea of that we are all assigned a place in Hades (πρὸς τὸν ἀποδεδειγμένον αὐτοῖς καθ' Ἅιδου χῶρον) in the afterlife where furies torture the wicked (IV.27.8-14; Henry ed.). Thus, Epicurean philosophical therapy is the process of rationally dispelling such myths concerning death, with the result that the great pain (μεγάλην... λύπην; 25.11-12) fueled by false ideas is reduced to a natural bite or sting (φυσικὸς ὁ δηγμός; 25.36). 
   Apparently, this remainder which is left over, the natural bite, after myths and superstitions have been cut out, is actually useful for the philosopher. For one thing, it humanizes the Epicurean since it is unnatural for a person to feel nothing when one's loved ones have passed away (you can see Philodemus taking a jab here against the Stoics who argued that the sage is "apathetic" to grief). A natural aversion to death (= death's bite) can also encourage a person to live well and wisely in the present (37.12-38.25; see Armstrong, 45-49*), much in the same way natural anger without false ideas about vengeance helps a person to seek justice for wrongs done (cf. Philodemus, On Anger, col. 67). 
Silver Tetradrachm (Greek: τετράδραχμον) coin from Ephesus
featuring a bee and stag (ca. 390-130 BC)
image credit:
So the key to Epicurean therapy is reducing great pain to a manageable, useful, and natural bite. Death is nothing but an irritating sting or bite that should not be feared. 
    But Paul's understanding of personified Death (θάνατε) and its sting (τὸ κέντρον) is that the latter is no small bite or peck like that of a mosquito. Rather, like some ancient species of wasps, bees, and scorpions of Paul's day, a sting can kill you (1 Cor 15:54-55; cf. Aristophanes, Wasps 403-407). There is a double entendre here. Paul's use of κέντρον refers to both the torturing device of personified Death (click here for details) and also the (insect's) sting which kills and ends life. In contrast to the Epicureans, Paul does not think the reality of divine judgment and justice is a false myth but part of the eschatological reality which frames the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is a divine law to which all must answer. While Paul's vision of the afterlife is nothing like Virgil's description of Hades (Aeneid, Book 6), he nevertheless does not discount the idea that God does exact justice for all humanity at the resurrection of the dead. Nor does Paul think any rationalization process could ever remove the agony which death brings. 
   Instead, the only solution is to remove the sting altogether. Death has no power over Christian believers because God will raise them up on the day of Jesus' return. Why settle for a bite, when God, through Christ, has conquered death's crippling effect on human life once and for all?! 

* See David Armstrong, "All Things to All Men: Philodemus' Model of Therapy and the Audience of De Morte," in Philodemus and the New Testament World (NovTSup 111; Leiden: Brill, 2004), 15-54.