Tuesday, February 28, 2006

SBL Review of Allison, Shorter Commentary
There is a useful review of the abridged "easified" version of the excellent commentary on Matthew available here .

Non-specialists readers can now access Allison's useful remarks and insights, though of course the commentary loses lots of its force and utility (it no longer features, though it still refers to, the Greek text of Matthew, for example, and the scholarly interaction and especially the bibliography have been cut way back). Hard to say if it is better in this form than others of its size, though I cannot imagine that any other critical or moderately critical commentary of its size would be superior. (Again, I'm a huge fan of David Garland's shorter commentary.)

Allison joins Keener on the list of those who have produced smaller versions; but I think R. T. France is the only one going from small to large; he is writing the forthcoming volume in the NICNT series.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Ben Witherington III on Matthew
From his blog, BWiii makes the following (informal) announcement:

In late April Smyth and Helwys (yes the Baptist Press in Georgia) will be publishing my Gospel of Matthew commentary. It is a hardback multi-media commentary with a CD Rom included and many paintings, charts, and drawings. It is about 600 pages or so and I am trying something different. I have read the whole Gospel through the lens of Jewish Wisdom literature because I am convinced this is what the Evangelist wanted us to do. It leads to some interesting insights. For example, have you noticed how the title Son of David shows up much more in Matthew and in connection with healings? Why-- especially since David was not a healer and there was no strong tradition in early Judaism about a healer messiah? The answer is that early Jews believed that healing took place through having wisdom from God as great as Solomon. There were even traditions about Solomon being taught how to cure demon possession. Thus when Jesus is called Son of David, it at least in part refers to his having the wisdom of cures, like Solomon.

I agree that Matthew is deeply embedded in the Jewish wisdom tradition, and I think BW3 has hit on something that many fail to realize. For example, I've just stressed in an earlier post the importance of Ps 37 (wisdom lit) for Matthew 5. I certainly believe him when he says this approach will turn up "some interesting insights. " I imagine he approaches his task with a good measure of caution, though I still suspect that reading Matthew through a "wisdom monocle" could easily lead one in some faulty directions. I can't wait to read it, though--and I was surprised not to have heard of this one previously.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Is Matthew anti-Pauline?
David C. Sim has recently argued (again!) that Matthew wrote specifically with an agenda of anti-Pauline rhetoric: ‘Matthew’s Anti-Paulinism: A Neglected Feature of Matthean Studies’, Hervormde Teologiese Studies 58 (2002), pp. 767-83. This is based on previous research, particularly on his 1998 book, The Gospel of Mathew and Christian Judaism: The History and Social Setting of the Matthean Community, where these views are developed more elaborately; see http://www.ntgateway.com/goodacre/Sim.pdf for an excellent short review by the blogfather.

Apart from the “negative” references to Gentiles, Sim’s argument revolves around what “keeping the law” means for M (the whole book, not the source!). But up front we should note that Paul in fact thinks he is teaching people how to keep the law in the sense of accomplishing what it was that the law sought (Romans 13:8, Galatians 6:2), but that the flesh apart from the Spirit could not accomplish. We’ll need to see specific disagreement on details, not just semantic expressions that prima facie oppose one another.

In point of fact, M and P agree on a remarkable array of core issues: the central goal for both is clearly “making the nations obedient to Jesus”; the central measure of Christian living for both writers could be summed up as “loving others as you would love yourself,” though Paul would have something to say about the Spirit. (Note also that both teach eschatological judgment by works.) Sim fails to see that these might be the strongest points of contact, and this leads him to search for M’s opinion of P in other matters.

Not to flatten the two writers out. They certainly do have different ways of articulating what they’re saying, with P’s multiple ways of referring to the “law” (very positive and very negative—even in the same letter) one of the most interesting differences.

The biggest argument against Sim is that M doesn’t mention the hot-button issues. If he was really writing anti-Pauline polemic, why would he not address head-on issues such as circumcision, diet, etc., in relation to the Gentiles? After all, these were the core issues that placed Paul on the proverbial rack. Are we to believe that he was consumed with ‘defeating’ Pauline Christianity, yet never touched on the distinctive elements of P opposed for his Gentile converts? If we accept Sim’s account, M has simply done a stellar job of not historicizing the issue of circumcision et al into Jesus’ day; surely this is a difficult way to prove one’s case. Moreover, the positive roles assigned to uncircumcised, non-proselyte characters (Magi, Centurion in Mt 8, and Canaanite woman; possibly the Roman troops at crucifixion) hardly speak of the need for conversion to Judaic Law; nor does M use such vitriol as “uncircumcised” when he references the Gentiles—who admittedly need to change (Mt 6.7, 6.32, 12:18-21; compare 1 Cor 6:9-11;) in accord with Jesus’ teaching.

And Sim may overvalue Matt's commitment to Torah qua Torah. M does note that the letter of the law is not an adequate representation of love and mercy and righteousness (23:23), nor can the letter substitute for fidelity to Jesus (19:20-22), nor can tradition (the equivalent of Torah for at least some in his day) be equated with the letter (5:17ff). Above all, “righteousness” means practicing things that the Law never required, good as it was (5.17ff), and J’s followers will be judged on the basis of commitment acts of love related to, but not specified by, Torah (25.31-46, 19.1-9, 6.14-15).

Question for more thought:

Does Sim’s critique underestimate Paul’s Jewishness, or the extent to which Paul defines his mission as making “nations obedient to Jesus”? (I happen to stand in broad agree with Sim and others against Stanton et al on the “Jewishness” of Matt, vs. other views such as church v synagogue and the anachronistic “Christians v Jews”)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Building a theology of the Land
The lads at http://www.beginningwithmoses.org/ have a new article by Stephen Sizer, who has done a great deal of work on Theology of the Land. I think things are less tied up with dispensationalism (apart from the old stalwarts like Pat Robertson and all), so I'm focusing more on constructive work modeled after NT writers' theological perspectives. However, Sizer is correct in noting that an understanding of dispensationalism is important for historical perspective on why things are the way they are currently, theologically and geo-politically. For a very thorough, personal, and gracious approach, I highly recommend Gary Burge's book on the theme (and not just cuz he's an Aberdeen guy!), particularly for North Americans.
Building a Theology of the Land #3: Beginning with Matthew
First up? Matthew 5:5…

Before I begin, I must insist that any Christian theology of the Land find its roots in Genesis 1: God is involved with and concerned for his creation, and the Land of Israel must be correlated with God’s original intent for all Creation (much could be said, for instance, about the relationships between Eden and the Promised Land, and moving forward, to the New Heavens/New Earth in the prophets). After all, the promise of Land is part of a Story that is cosmic, not local. It began with the Creation of all things, and promises to end with the renewal of all things. God has not abandoned his Creation, as Paul teaches in Romans 8…but now I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to Matthew!

Matthew 5:5 is a citation from Psalm 37 (cf. Qumran, where this is treated as messianic). Most of you already know that the Greek word which appears here in Matthew 5:5 ge can mean Land, Earth, earth, land, or region. This is roughly the same semantic range as the Hebrew word erets used in Psalm 37. Jesus is treating the Land as an eschatological gift for those who follow him; but lexically speaking this could be a reference to the Earth.

Note that in Psalm 37, four references to inheriting the Land all speak to Matthew’s apparent interests, as if Matt 5:5 (and in some ways, the Beatitudes or even the Sermon on the Mount on the whole) were explicating this Psalm. The meek (37.11), the blessed, but not the cursed (37.22, compare Matt 23 and the curses there!), the righteous (v 29), those pursuing the way of the Lord who will be exalted by him (37.34; Matt 3:3, 7.13-14; compare again Matt 23:12) all find a home in Matthew. There are many other connections between Matthew and this Psalm, some no doubt due to their common concern for wisdom and law. In a nutshell, however, Matthew 5.5 and Psalm 37 and Qumran (and the Didache, but this stems from Matthew) are all concerned about the expected reversal, when the wealthy and wicked, the oppressive rulers who cut short God's desired prosperity and peace in the Land are removed, and righteousness rules. And all encourage patience in light of the future Great Reversal, and, it would seem, non-violence.

But does this promise in Matthew 5.5 apply to Israel’s land, the whole earth, or what? Does it apply to Jesus’ Jewish disciples, or does Matthew expect it to apply more broadly? I’ll make some additional notes on “land” in Matthew in part four in the next day or two.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Sex, please.
As in gender. I'm not sure what I would pay for a comprehensive list of the sex of various biblical scholars. This is particularly tough in three areas: foreign names (Wim J. C. Weren?), gender neutral names (Carey Newman, Robin Scroggs, Rikki Watts)--or a combination of the first two (Jan Bremmer; Lee, Kim, Jean); and first initial names (J. Massyngbyrde Ford comes to mind; first name "Jane," although she never wrote with it to my knowledge).

Anyone ever written a paper in a slightly awkward style so as not to reference an author's sex? I sure have.
Crossley, crossly(?!), on Blomberg

Among the recent offerings in SBL's online Review of Books, James Crossley's review of Craig Blomberg, Contagious Holiness: Jesus' Meals with Sinners stands out. Scot McKnight has also given this book some play on his blog, jesuscreed.org.

Public note to self: if I ever write something that may require or benefit from a good thorough smack-down, send it to James!

I haven't read the book, but the critical remarks seem relatively fair, particularly on the 'historicity' question. I think in many cases Blomberg and others would be better off saying, "I'm not going to argue for historicity on this pericope, but I will assume it for the sake of the present discussion (perhaps also offering arguments why it shouldn't be rejected as ahistorical)." In passing, though, if CB thinks Jesus is superior to anything else he has found, then I don't think one should require him to argue otherwise, though maybe JC is trying to say that there's not as much evidence for that as CB thinks. I haven't read this book, so I'm not entirely sure what inspired James's response here.
Building a theology of the Land #2: “Personal History”
When I was growing up in suburban Texas, every single person I knew loved Israel. We sang songs with Hebrew verses; the occasional shofar showed up in worship services; there were people in our Christian circles who were Jewish ethnically and in their praxis (Passover, diet, style of wedding, etc). There was a general reverence, I think, towards things Jewish—whether stories about Masada or the Fiddler on the Roof. As far as the nation of Israel was concerned, we all thought they were the baddest, toughest cusses on the planet, and we were pretty sure God wanted them on a certain strip of Land in the Eastern Mediterranean. One of my best friends had a dog named Yanni. This was the nickname of Benjamin Netanyahu’s brother Jonathan, a national hero who was the lone Israeli killed during the remarkable raid to rescue the passengers and crew from a hijacked plane in Entebbe, Uganda. (For those not familiar with the way Americans love dogs, naming your pooch after someone is a complement, not a curse!) I imagine many others grew up with roughly the same perspective I had.

What produced this phenomenon in American culture? Lots of reasons, I suspect; Israelis were definitely not Communist; in the 70s and 80s, the best-selling non-fiction (I use that term as the NY Times used it!) book in history, The Late Great Planet Earth had propagated the belief in the rapture, the need for the Jews to own the Land and rebuild the Temple, etc. Post-holocaust sensitivity and knowledge of the hostility of Israel’s neighbors toward Jews also contributed to this support.

As I reflect on this, I’m struck by three things: the first is the very militant nature of this support for the present-day nation-state of Israel among Christians—something I find no support for in the New Testament whatsoever. Second, I don’t remember ever being “drilled” in the Scriptures as to why it was the case that Israel should own the Land; it was just assumed. Perhaps this is in part due to the very complex arguments mustered by dispensationalists. Above all, there are important and encouraging NT teachings that were left behind when we focused on the present-day nation-state of Israel and failed to see the connection between the ancient Land of Israel and something greater...

Over the past decade-plus, I’ve gotten to know the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a new angle, thanks to a thoughtful teacher in social studies course in high school, an undergraduate degree in International Studies, and getting to know Arabs and Christians from the Middle East. I read books by O. Palmer Robertson, Gary Burge, W. D. Davies, and Walter Breuggemann which addressed the subject. While visiting a friend at Queen’s College, Oxford, I had the privilege of hearing Peter Walker do a lecture on related material (Jerusalem in the New Testament); I also heard Palmer Robertson do something similar at my alma mater on the Land. Such experiences solidified a change I was already undergoing and (I trust) fostered a more mature approach to the issue of the Land and the relevant biblical texts.

In the next post, I’m going to take a look at the NT texts which might address the question of the Land. First up? Matthew 5:5…

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Building a theology of the Land #1: “The Need for Deconstruction and Reconstruction”
Given the recent Pat Robertson flap, the election of Hamas, and the fact that Theology of the Land is always a timely topic in any case, a series discussing the Land in the NT might be appropriate.

I now think that concern over Israel in North America is no longer usually tied to the Bible. Sure, in some circles it is—there are still some dispensationalists, although far fewer than there were 15-20 years ago. This is still argued by high-profile figures like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, the authors of Left Behind, and the like. (I heard someone say recently that the conservative political commentator Sean Hannity holds to this, but I don’t know if that’s true.) But these folks increasingly have less influence, and don’t speak for the majority of Americans.

Nonetheless, there is a fair amount of residual “theological” support for Israel. This mixes easily with a general culture of distrust for Arabs and Muslims and a general culture of support for Israel to produce a completely one-sided perspective on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Moreover, American political support for Israel is a given for both parties. No serious candidate would run for state-wide or national office on a platform calling for the end of US funding for Israel (3-4 billion dollars a year—money we are borrowing from China, of course); too many interest groups support Israel for this to happen—Jews (in New York, New Jersey, and Florida), white Christians (Republican) and black Christians (Democratic) all support Israel, and many vote accordingly.

Thus, even if the biblical side of the debate is less important now than it was 20 years ago, the issue is still very much a live and important question. And if there’s a way to read the Bible correctly so that prejudice, militarism, and bigotry (naïve or not) can be rooted out, and we can find some collective encouragement in what the Bible actually teaches, this investigation may have some value.

It’s especially important to take a look at the biblical roots for a theology of the Land from the perspective of the NT (which is almost always ignored in discussions of the question), in order to offset some lingering tendencies in Christian circles in North America. More importantly, I and others I know have found that pursuing the NT message on the Land can be incredibly encouraging and rewarding.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Free Seminary Resources

A conservative American institution, Covenant Theological Seminary is one of the seminaries associated with the Presbyterian Church of America. They have recently made many of their courses available on MP3 with accompanying handouts and outlines. These are courses taught at an accredited seminary, available for free (thanks in part, I think, to the generosity of the Maclellan Foundation of Chattanooga). The traditional route to seminary education is not relevant or possible for most pastors in America, let alone the rest of the world. Given this state of affars, this is precisely the sort of access hundreds of thousands of pastors, church planters, and teachers need. Plans appear to be in the works to translate this material into various languages. See www.covenantseminary.edu/worldwide for courses offered.

I wonder what role, if any, blogs might play in this process of educating the world?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Who is Suetonius's "Chrestus"?
What do you all make of the “Chrestus” riots which resulted in the Jews (possibly including some Christians) being expelled from Rome by Claudius, reported by Suetonius, Claudius, 25.4? Whatever the identity of “Chrestus”, this event provides important background to the book of Romans as well as insight into the relationship between Judaism and Rome more generally.

Some scholars give ‘probabilities’ over whether or not this is Jesus, although in my book there were surely other “Christ” candidates in that era. The concept and would-be identity of Messiah was strongly debated in Judaism writ large. Religious argument could have contributed to civil unrest, or could have been interpreted as contributing to it, if factions fell out along certain lines.

(1) Is “Chrestus” Christ, as in Jesus?
(2) Is it not necessarily Jesus, but another messianic figure being debated by the Jews?
(3) Is the concept of “the Christ” part of a debate along party lines?
(4) Is an unrelated figure named "Chrestus" (not a common name, as I understand it), perhaps a Gentile, to be blamed for insulting or instigating Jewish riots?

As far as question (1) goes, DeSilva, Intro to the NT, 599-600, says yes, as do Dunn (“almost universally taken to be Christ”) and more tentatively, NTW, who in the mid-90s said during lectures on Romans, “75 percent sure.”

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Effective History of Exegesis: Jesus the Gentile
The claim that Jesus was a Gentile has its foundations in supposedly neutral exegesis. I had no idea of the “foundations” of this until recently. Turns out it’s “in the text”—just like the curse that supposedly helps us identify sub-Saharan Africans and their destiny as sub-humans.In a previous post, I mentioned that Mike Bird at Euangelion provided a list of things on which to blog, including number 11, "Give us some snippets from what he's work on with his PH.D thesis." Well, this popped up in my studies. Here’s my current favorite for the exegetical position with the worst history of influence, at least for Matthew’s Gospel.

Mary, some early 20th century German scholars claimed, must be Gentile, since the other four women in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba) were such. I believe this was first argued by Seeberg, “Die Herkunft der mutter Jesu,“ Theologische Festschrift für G. N. Bonwetsch zu seinem 70 Geburstag (Leipzig, 1918). The theory found a comfortable home in German Matthean and NT scholarship, fermented in theories about the Gentile population of Galilee in 1c and the rejection of heilsgeschicte which included the Jews. Eventually it found a home in German anti-Jewish Christian scholarship and praxis, and the rest is history.

Granted Matthew 23 has been taken many horrendous places, reading Mary and Jesus as “Gentiles” really opened some doors that should have stayed closed, and it baptized participation in genocide in a ghastly manner.

Any rules for preventing yourself from heading down this path--or opening up a door for others to do so with your scholarship? How 'bout starting here: be careful when providing a novel interpretation which no one has ever before seen.
It's Matthew Time
Thanks to all of you who have kindly noticed Gospel of Matthew (Alan Bandy, Mike Bird, James Crossley, I’m talking to you all; thanks most recently to Mark Goodacre). I intentionally told no one, in part to wait and see if I really would stick with it. Apparently it only takes a few weeks for a blog on the right topic to get Googled by someone somewhere and enter the biblioblog matrix. I feel a bit like Conrad entering the Congo Delta...

James suggested football. I'd like to do something 'professional,' but perhaps for Germany 2006 we can make an exception to Matthew and the NT.

Alan left no indication of any recommendations, but these were probably edited out by a redactor, since we all know that Alan himself (the real Alan) is opionated.

Mike suggested 11 topics:
1. The meaning and application of the exception clauses on divorce
2. The meaning of Mt. 5.18
3. Was there a Matthean community?
4. The significance of "Syria" in 4.24
5. Did Luke use Matthew?
6. What does he think of Alistair Wilson's book on judgement in Matthew (should be interesting since Alistair is his supervisor)
7. Give a summary of Matthew's interpretation of the OT
8. Did the "M" source really exist or is it just Matthean redaction?
9. Analyse the restoration/exile motif in Matt 1-4.
10. Matthew's relation with Judaism and the Synagogue.
11. Give us some snippets from what he's work on with his PH.D thesis.

Whew. What a list. I certainly plan to at least bring some of these up. Unfortunately, I’m only man enough to do one dissertation (if that!). But who can resist this list?

Let me target one of these quickly: 3. Was there a Matthean community? Yes, but not the one most have conceived—a small congregation, perhaps in Antioch, fighting with the synagogue down the block (I’m exaggerating a bit, but that’s not far from the way it’s frequently portrayed). Bauckham and co. have some mileage as far as Matthew is concerned, if only because things had tilted so far the other direction. For my part, I’m content to acknowledge that Matt may have seen problems in his community that were addressed in the text, and that these influenced his writing. Very well—go ahead and ride that all the way to a chair in NT studies by committing the intentional fallacy if you wish. But given Markan priority, shouldn’t we note some universal value for Matthew—probably intentional? It’s hard for me to see how Matt’s use of Mark merely reflects a “local” reading. If anything, Matthew produces a more universal text (28.16-20, etc). As for conflict with the synagogue, this was a problem all over the Roman Empire early on (1 Thessalonians 2, Galatians) and for a good while (Colossians? Lk-Acts?), not merely in post-70 Galilee and Antioch.
The Sermon on the Mount
Scot McKnight
It’s always a beautiful thing when well-trained scholars turn a pastoral eye on Scripture. Over at JesusCreed.org, Scot McKnight has wrapped up his lengthy series of pericope-by-pericope reflections on the Sermon on the Mount and it is archived for all to see, beginning here and concluding here.

Although an expert in other areas of the NT, Scot has done great work on Matthew in the past; see “A Loyal Critic: Matthew’s Polemic with Judaism in Theological Perspective,” in Anti-Semitism and Early Christianity, ed. Craig A. Evans and D. A. Hagner (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993). He’s not afraid to choose some uncommon interpretations, and in several places he records “hands in the air” entries (his hands are in the air at least temporarily, before they fly back to the keyboard, usually with a stroke of genius attached), which Scot uses to engage the minds of his wide-ranging readership. A great series from a model blog. Scot is also a great one to follow if you’re interested in learning the crafts of blogging and writing, principally because he seems more concerned with trying to follow Jesus than either of those two things.

Monday, February 06, 2006

I've had a terrible time trying to get blogger/blogspot to work for me over the past few weeks; I've lost several posts, had a few others mysteriously disappear 3 days after they were written. I'm suspending action for a while.