Saturday, February 27, 2016

An Ideal Setup Can Help with Research

Here is a not-so-popular addage: "Good administration is no guarantee for success, but bad administration can certainly stiffle it" (a Max Lee quotable). This is true of business, profane or holy, and it is true for academics who are plugging forward on their research projects. I have longed to find the perfect computer screen setup for writing. I finally saved enough dough to put it together this past week. Here is a photo of it: 
My Research Computer Setup: Left Screen: MS Word Doc of a chapter I'm working on
Right Screen: Top is Plato's Theaetetus from the HathiTrust Digital Library and
Bottom has the Greek morphology engine on the Perseus Project website

I used two 22-inch Dell flat screen's (refurbished price $140 each) and rotated them to portrait mode, set the display to extended screen so that the two monitors act as a single screen together, got a used docking station ($20) for my North Park issued Dell Latitude E5440 laptop (free as long as I keep teaching at the seminary), found an old keyboard, and voilà! The perfect setup. 
    Because the screens are rotated to portrait mode, on the left one, I can get a full page view of whatever part of the monograph I'm working on (more like 1 1/2 pages) at 150% zoom. I don't have to squint anymore at my 14 in. (X 10 in.) display on my dinky laptop which only allows me to see less than 1/2 a page at a given moment. To my right, I can keep the top window open on whatever electronic document I'm working in (i.e., the photo above has Plato's Theaetetus on screen, courtesy of the HathiTrust Digital Library) and on the bottom right window, I can keep a web browser open (i.e., the photo has the Greek morphology engine on the Perseus Project website). Of course, the most important item on the desk for any researcher, an absolute must, is a cup of java to keep the blood pumping.
   I just thought I would share this setup since the scholarly world sometimes seems so solitary and we academics, professors and students alike, need to help each other out with whatever productivity hints we can share. 
   FYI, I received the idea for the above setup from a post by James Warren, Reader at Cambridge University, whose kenodoxia blog I follow. In his post, James (with whom I enjoyed a very helpful conversation one day in 2010 when I stole away from my post-doctoral studies at Durham University to visit Cambridge) showed a two-screen setup as he was compiling the indices for his now published book The Pleasures of Reason (2014). When I saw his post, it gave me the inspiration for the above desktop arrangement. But I had to save for a few months before I could buy what I needed. Cheers!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Posting on the Blog Randomly and Infrequently until Summer 2016

Well, I hate to do this, but I'm already missing too many self-imposed deadlines for a few books projects. So I'm going to take a break from blogging so I can jump-start my own research. Every now and then, I will post random musings on Pauline scholarship, or make announcements concerning the Intertextuality in the New Testament Section I co-chair at the Society of Biblical Literature. I might also blog on my post-doctoral studies at the École biblique et archéologique française de Jérusalem this coming April.
     But I'm just going to free myself from my regularly weekly posting schedule and resume it at the start of Summer 2016. It's been so crazy busy lately, I have not even made my way to watch the movie Risen yet, which I'm eager to see (and perhaps post a review later?)
     In the meanwhile, here's a Dilbert cartoon reflecting my own frustrations over the writing enterprise: 

Illustration Credit by ©2015

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Paul's Use of Precious Metals to Describe Pastoral Ministry in 1 Cor 3:11-15

It just so happens that the antiquities exhibit at the Getty Villa affords an opportunity to give a photo-by-photo commentary on Apostle Paul's use of precious materials to describe the building blocks of pastoral ministry. The text I'm thinking about is 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 (my own translation below): 

11 For no one can lay a foundation beyond what has been laid, which is Christ Jesus. 12 And if anyone on this foundation builds with gold (χρυσόν), silver (ἄργυρον), precious stones (λίθους τιμίους), wood (ξύλα), grass (χόρτον), stubble (καλάμην), 13 the work of each person will become apparent, for the day will make it clear, since it will be revealed by fire and fire will test (τὸ πῦρ δοκιμάσει) one's work, the quality of each (ἑκάστου τὸ ἔργον ὁποῖόν). 14 If the work which someone built remains (μενεῖ), the person will receive a reward. 15 If one’s work is burnt up, the person will experience loss (or "will be punished," depending on how you translate ζημιωθήσεται), but he himself will be saved, but in the same way as [one gets] through fire.  (1 Cor 3:11-15)

The Getty Villa had a special Roman silver exhibit they procured from France (the Berthouville Treasure discovered in 1830) back in summer 2015, but unfortunately, the museum was very strict about not allowing any photos. I was tempted to sneak a few pic's but chickened out. 
    Much more modest but still helpful was the Villa's own precious metals artefacts exhibit (mostly focusing on silver items but some gold) with a fair sampling of ancient jewelry, and these I could take photos of. They provide a nice way to illustrate the first three items mentioned in Paul's list of building materials. I've included these below with identifying tags from my visit to the Villa last summer.

Roman gold cup (gold weight = 2 libras; ca. AD 1-100)
from Knidos (Turkey)
Photo by Max Lee © 2015 Getty Villa
Greek silver wine cups (ca. 100-50 BC)
Photo by Max Lee © 2015 Getty Villa
Parthian necklace with detached pieces of
sardonyx stones as jewelry (ca. 100BC)
Photo by Max Lee © 2015 Getty Villa
Mummy Mask of a wealthy woman in Roman Egypt (ca. AD. 100)
(more on mummy masks here). Look closely around her neck and
you can see the bottom necklace composed of precious stones
Photo by Max Lee © 2015 Getty Villa
Paul in this text appears to highlight two points of comparision between the first group of gold, silver, and precious stones versus the second group of inferior building materials such as wood, grass, and stubble. He charges the church in its ministerial practices, what kind of building or body of believers are they constructing? 
    If fire here stands for divine judgment, or a metonymy for the eschatological judgment of God at our Lord's return, God tests our ministry both for 1) the quality or kind (ὁποῖόν) of work we do, and 2) whether the work remains or lasts (μενεῖ). The museum exhibits are a nice reminder that articles of gold, silver, and precious stones stand the test of time and endured to be discovered later. While there are unusual exceptions where articles of wood have been preserved (e.g., the 2000-year old fishing boat found on the bottom of the Sea of Galilee during a drought), for the most part, things built of wood, grass/hay, and stubble do not stand the test of time. They do not remain (μενεῖ) or last. 
    Pastorally, Paul's injunctions in 1 Cor 3 remind me never to present the gospel cheaply. If a preacher waters down the gospel and reduces Jesus' demand for complete surrender to something less, and this is what a person commits him- or herself to, then how watered down can the gospel be before it is no longer salvation to the one who receives it? Will such a person's salvation stand the test of present trials and persecution, let alone God's own judgment at the end of time? 
    Or, on another note, will the church I pastor stand strong until the Lord's return? What kind of disciples am I raising so that they can take the baton of faith and pass it on to a new and vibrant generation of Christian followers rising amongst our ranks? 
    The exhortations by Paul are sobering both theologically and pastorally. And the vividness of what lasts became even more colorfully illustrated by the artefacts at Getty.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

A Book Review Panel Worth Going Early For: Craig Keener, Susan Eastman, and John Barclay on E.P. Sander's Paul

Nijay Gupta over on his blog Crux Sola has made this awesome panel review announcement, that I'm re-blogging here. This book review by Craig Keener, Susan Eastman, and John Barclay of E.P. Sander's recent work on Paul: The Apostle's Life, Letters and Thought is worth trying to fly out early to catch. It is part of the newly launched Pauling Theology group of the Institute of Biblical Research. This session coincides with the start of the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas, this Novmember. The review is from 4-6pm Friday late afternoon (Nov. 18), just before IBR's plenary session in the evening at 7:00pm. I usually like flying in much later in the evening but I'm going to make an effort to arrive in San Antonio early to attend this review. Hope to see many of you there!

Postscript: Also, the Intertextuality in the New Testament Section of SBL is also planning a book review for one of our plenary sessions. Stay tuned for the announcement once all the details have been ironed out. MJL

Big News: EP Sanders to Present at IBR Research Group (Gupta)

Monday, February 8, 2016

Once Again the Brutality of Ancient Boxing: Lessons from the Getty Villa Museum

It's back to business and the main focus of this blog: interpreting the Apostle Paul in his Greco-Roman context. In the past, I had done a series of posts on athleticism in the Mediterranean world during the early imperial period of Rome. But when I was visiting the Getty Villa last summer, I came across a stunning mosaic from the Gallo-Roman period discovered in the archaeological ruins of a Roman villa in present-day Villelaure, France. I thought it worth discussing the boxing scene depicted in this mosaic floor made of stone and glass:
Roman Mosaic of two Boxers (ca. A.D. 175)
Photo by Max Lee © 2015 from the Getty Villa
In the above photo, we have the artist's depiction of the aged Sicilian boxing champ Entellus (left) and the younger Trojan hero Dares (right) who is bleeding from a wound inflicted by Entellus. In the background is the prize bull for the winner (no-brainer: Entellus won!) which, according to Virgil's Aeneid, was punched so hard by Entellus, he cracked the bull's skull and killed it as a sacrifice to the gods. 
    Even more interesting is how both boxers wear caesti or leather gloves, often wrapped with iron balls or lead around the boxers' hands to increase the force of the blows. It goes without saying that such blows could prove fatal in the ring.
    The mosaic is a shocking reminder that boxing was brutal in the ancient world, and the athlete who engages in it required focus, stamina, discipline, training and endurance. Ancient boxers made modern MMA fighters look like wimps. 
    Therefore it is all the more striking (pardon the pun!) how the Apostle Paul uses the boxing metaphor to describe the discipline and focus needed in ministry: 

25 Every competitor/athlete (ὁ ἀγωνιζόμενος) exercises self-control over all things; they do this to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. 26 So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box (πυκτεύω) as though beating the air; 27 but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after I proclaim (κηρύξας) [the gospel] to others, I myself shall not become disqualified. (1 Cor 9:25-27)

The minister is the spiritual athlete. The one who proclaims the gospel to others and learns to become all things to all people so that by all means he or she might save some (cf. 9:22) requires the focus and precision of an expert boxer who disciplines one's own body and trains it, but also stays on mission without distraction. Everyone who preaches the gospel knows that ministry can be more brutal than boxing.