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Tuesday, August 30, 2005


I'm setting off on a stop-start journey to Liverpool for the BNTC, although not quite a detour to match travelling from Tyre to the Decapolis via Sidon. I should be able to blog before Thurs but you may have to wait for BNTC related blogs when it is over. I'm going to respond to Rafael Rodriguez's paper on memory, reputation and the historical Jesus. I've enjoyed reading the paper and I'm confident it will produce some good discussion.

There are a variety of papers available for downloading on the BNTC website.

Incidentally, this seems to be my first NT/earliest Christian history related comment in some time. Ah well.

Newcastle 0-2 Man Utd

Yet another good United win: Ruud and Rooney. Things are starting to look good...

Owen to Newcastle?!

Saturday, August 27, 2005

'Fundamentalism' and Education

There's a report in today's Guardian by Natasha Walter on 'fundamentalist' Christian education in the UK. Some might find it interesting and some may not be happy with the use of the term 'evangelical'. Here are a couple of extracts:

Alastair Kirk stopped going to school when he was 11. He is now 20, and not exactly a dropout - he went on being educated at home, and every day he sat down and worked his way through booklets of maths, English, science, history, geography, all couched in a unique style. "Here are examples of interrogative sentences," states one grammar booklet in the curriculum he used, Accelerated Christian Education. "Do you know Jesus as your personal Saviour? Can you ever praise Him enough?"

Although few people outside evangelical churches have even heard of it, more than 500 families in Britain are currently educating their children at home with the curriculum that Alastair's family used. Accelerated Christian Education was developed in the 1970s by American fundamentalists, but its popularity is now growing in the UK, and not only among home-schooling families - more than 50 schools in Britain are using it. The main teaching tools are booklets relating to each subject - the children read a section and then fill in a questionnaire. When I visit the office for Christian Education Europe, in Swindon, I meet one of the directors, Arthur Roderick, who tells me with great gusto that they are getting more and more inquiries every year. "More people understand why we do this now. Black is getting blacker and white is getting whiter," he says, with the rolling rhetoric that betrays his long experience as a preacher.

Much concern has been expressed about independent faith schools in Britain lately, but the anxiety is always concentrated on independent Muslim schools and what children are learning there. Independent Christian schools, on the other hand, are pretty much ignored. The chief inspector of schools, David Bell, for example, recently criticised independent Muslim schools for failing to teach tolerance of other cultures. But after he had made that speech, his office released information that showed evangelical Christian schools are actually even less successful at that task.

Legislation lays down that independent schools can go their own way in many things - they do not have to abide by the national curriculum - but they must "assist pupils to acquire an appreciation of and respect for their own and other cultures, in a way that promotes tolerance and harmony", and of the 40 evangelical Christian schools that were not yet fully registered by Ofsted, 18 had failed on that count.

The evangelical schools that I visit have, in fact, been deemed to succeed in that requirement, even though they do not see it as their brief to talk about other faiths at all. Where other faiths, or even branches of the same faith, are discussed in the ACE booklets, the tone is telling. One social studies booklet on Martin Luther and the Reformation, for instance, is critical of the Catholic church in the 16th century and also, by implication, today, using such words as "idolatry" and "superstitious nonsense" to characterise supposedly Catholic teachings, and inviting children to underline the "correct" Protestant beliefs. At the Maranatha Christian School near Swindon, 60 children are taught with ACE, which emphasises at every turn that evangelical Christianity is the only route to the truth.

Some British state schools have been criticised for putting the creation and evolution as equivalent viewpoints in religious education lessons, but for children at ACE schools the literal interpretation of Genesis permeates everything they are taught. And for the parents who choose schools like this, such literal use of the Bible is the draw. Tom Price has five children at the school, and loves that they are being taught that the six-day creation story is a fact. "Evolution removes God from the world. But I see God's hand in everything. I see purpose and design," he enthuses. Price is a lay preacher in a Pentecostal church, Assemblies of God. "I don't want to have to undo and unpick what they are taught at school."

In addition to frequent incursions of the Bible, ACE also delivers a pretty solid, old-fashioned grounding in other areas. It begins with reading based on the newly fashionable synthetic phonics, and moves on to other core school subjects - maths, history, geography, physics, languages and so on. What stands out is the traditional delivery of the information with none of the role-play and speculation of current mainstream curricula. This is all about getting your head around the "facts" then retelling those "facts" in multiple choice and fill-in-the-blanks tests. Although that means children learn the basics in a way that many state-educated pupils may not, it also means they do not learn to question anything they are taught. Harry Brighouse, professor of philosophy and education policy studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, has watched the expansion of ACE in America with distaste. "It is a crude curriculum. It doesn't encourage questioning or individual thought - it is very much based on rote learning."

What is undeniably attractive about this curriculum - even for the sceptical observer - is the way that it moves at the same pace as the child. With ACE, children are assessed on entry and progress at their own speed, working through booklets and doing the tests at the end of each one before they can move on to the next. They work mainly alone, but if they get stuck they put a little flag up in their cubicle and a supervisor will help out. This flexible pace with its built-in checks can clearly work for children who have fallen through gaps in the state system.

Another parent, Des Starritt, tells me that one reason he wanted to withdraw his children from state school is that they were given books about witchcraft there. At first I don't understand, but then I click - he means books by JK Rowling or Philip Pullman. "We would not put Harry Potter in the school library," says Paul Medlock, the Maranatha headmaster. "It is a book without proper values," says Ben Pike. "It treats witchcraft lightly."

This school, church and community centre are the creation of two pastors, Maxine and George Hargreaves, who have a vision for this deprived community. George Hargreaves is a charismatic, articulate man in his late 40s, who recently stood for election for the fundamentalist Christian political party, Operation Christian Vote.

I can see that here the staff strive to give children a sense of pride. But their learning is shaped by the narrowest interpretation of the Bible with all the preconceptions of this religious bias, including a very particular approach to sex education. Maxine responds first when I ask the Hargreaves about the subject. "We talk to the older girls about virginity," she says. George takes up the theme. "We tell them that the blood shed when virginity is broken on the marriage bed is part of the blood covenant made between you and your husband under God, and if the blood is shed elsewhere it will weaken the covenant." A few moments later, George reaches into his pocket for a tiny pink plastic doll foetus, and drops it into my hand: "180,000 babies like that are killed every year in Britain. That is what happens when you take sex out of God's order."

For parents who mistrust mainstream education, the ACE system provides the means to avoid it completely. The curriculum is easy for parents to use at home because all the information is contained in the booklets, which also provide self-tests and which progress neatly from level to level. And by withdrawing children from school altogether, of course, parents can exercise even more control over what their children think and read and say. I watch Arthur Roderick play to that desire for control when he speaks at a seminar for ACE home-schooling families. "The deepest temptation is up here," he says fiercely, pointing to his forehead. "Philosophical pollution is all around them." Beverley England, who is in the small audience of parents, has already made the choice to save her family from such pollution.

Because the question still burns about how this kind of education can possibly prepare children to make their own intellectual choices. In the US, where ACE is a much bigger force, that is really what exercises its critics. One American educationalist who is hostile to fundamentalist Christian education, David Berliner of Arizona University, has complained that in ACE schools "nearly all speculative activities about the world and the human condition have been purged from the curriculum and so, therefore, have all of the teaching methodologies that promote speculation."

A style of education that discourages doubt and debate clearly poses a question for the rest of society. As David Berliner says to me, "Their educational system is closer to ultrafundamentalism than is healthy for a democracy." Yet ACE schools are independent, they ask for no state support, and families who choose to educate their children at home do so in the face of indifference or hostility from local authorities. Aren't they just exercising their own right to free choice as to how their children should be educated? So long as their children reach a reasonable standard of learning, has anyone the right to interfere?

Ben Rogers, the associate director of the thinktank Institute for Public Policy Research, produced a recent report, What Is Religious Education For? which argued that discussion of atheism and agnosticism should be included within religious education for all children. "There is this view that parents own their children," he says. "Nobody owns kids. Children aren't yours to control, you hold them in trust, and you should cultivate certain qualities in them, including the ability to understand the value of different points of view."

The future is likely to see more of this debate, since most of the people I interviewed believed that independent fundamentalist education is set to spread in the UK, partly because of the inspiration evangelical Christians seem to take from what's happening across the Atlantic. Ben Pike talked wistfully to me at Maranatha School about the way that evangelical churches in the US have managed to bring so many children into their independent schools and home-schooling networks. "America provides us with a vision for the future," he says.

In the US evangelicals have effectively created a parallel system of education which has schooled hundreds of thousands of pupils in its messianic world view and the evangelical social and political agenda has moved into the mainstream. Evangelical Christianity is far from being such a force in Britain, but it is clearly the desire of many of those I met that it should become so.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Debreceni VSC 0-3 Man Utd and Euro Champions' League Draw

Another very assured performance. Two good goals from the mighty Heinze and a great strike from Richardson (I hope he gets a few games this season). Alan Smith looked very comfortable in that holding role which could be a good sign for the future.

Best bit of TV commentary? 'I looked at the statues outside the Olympic stadium and thought, "Do they represent Olympic disciplines?" But no, they were, erm, er, Communist heroes.' Who says sport and politics don't mix? They do on Channel 5.

The TV event was bettered last time United played in Hungary a couple of years ago when despite watching United lose I was endlessly entertained by a man dressed up as a massive pint of beer with legs walking aroung the outside of the pitch for the whole game.

The draw Champions' League is at 3 pm. Can't see any Danish teams...

UPDATE: United's group is: Manchester United, Villarreal, Lille, Benfica. People are saying it is tough but United had a much tougher group when they won in 1999 and it should keep them on their toes for the knockout stage should they qualify.

More entertaining is Liverpool and Chelsea are in the same group.

Pat Robertson's apology

"If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it," Pat Robertson apparently said of Hugo Chavez.

Apparently he has apologised and apparently claimed his comments have been misinterpreted. He now says, "I said our special forces could take him out. Take him out could be a number of things, including kidnapping."

Well I haven't seen the transcripts so I'm only reading what has been reported but if he did say this, it's hardly much of an improvement.

Update: see also Cafe Apocalypsis for strong criticisms of Robertson from a biblical perspective (as it were).

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Idiotwatch 2

Tory leadership candidate David Cameron will make his contribution to the Islamic extremism debate. Apparently,
David Cameron will liken the growth of militant Islamic terrorism to the rise of the Nazis in a speech today attempting to establish his leadership credentials as tough on foreign policy.
The Conservative leadership hopeful will use his first major foreign policy speech to urge Britain not to agree to an early withdrawal from Iraq or back major concessions by Israel in the Middle East, likening weakness in the face of extremism to the appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s.

Mr Cameron will say today: "If only, some argue, we withdraw from Iraq, or Israel made massive concessions, then we would assuage jihadist anger. That argument, often advanced by well-meaning people, is as limited as the belief in the Thirties that by allowing Germany to remilitarise the Rhineland or take over the Sudetenland, we would satisfy Nazi ambitions.
"As we discovered in the 1930s, a willingness to cede ground and duck confrontation is interpreted as a fatal weakness. It can only provide an incentive to escalate the struggle against a foe who clearly lacks the stomach for the fight."

This argument is doing the rounds of late. We already had to witness the absurd comparisons between the Iraq War and WWII, now this. Historical parallels are almost doomed to failure. There are no such convenient patterns in history (as Eden found out in the Suez crisis). One reason why this use of historical parallels is absurd is that the historical conditions are radically different from the 1930s. On a basic level, what really are the chances of terrorists being as powerful as Hitler? What chance, seriously, have Muslim terrorists got of taking over chunks of Europe? And isn't there a little more to the Israeli situation than assuaging terrorist concerns? None of it comes close to working. Paralleling the events of the 1930s have little if any usefulness. They can be turned on their head. Who's to say Saddam or anyone else couldn't have used such logic? And what drives this? Does history have some self evident morals driven my a mysterious force? It makes no sense.

Look further at the underlying logic: those who wanted to avoid confrontation in the 1930s is interpreted as a fatal weakness, therefore those who don't want one now have the same problem. So presumably anyone who wants to avoid a confrontation is just the same, in any situation, any time?? If the 1930s say so then this applies for all time? 'It can only....'

Another great choice for the next election looms...

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


As Jim West has already noted, Pat Robertson has more political insight, this time concerning Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Robertson claimed that the US govt should assassinate Chavez to prevent Venezuela not only becoming 'a launching pad' for that old bogeyman communism but even more amazingly the new one, 'Muslim extremism' (have I missed something major happening in Venezuelan religion?!). The logic: it would save on a later costly war!

Rent-a-quote Robertson has come out with some spectacular statements in the past before. One of my favourites is that feminism leads to, among other things, women killing their children, becoming witches, and, naturally, ending up as lesbians.

There's no point going through his argument point by point as he can't even be taken remotely seriously but the general effect of an alarmist portrayal (I'm being too kind to Robertson now) of Islam is depressing and contributes to the ever growing negative portrayal of Islam. As ever 'Muslim extremism' is thought to be everywhere. Another not-quite-as-weird example is noted by a couple of news blogs who report the following letter in The Times (London):

August 11, 2005 'Effects of new drinking hours' From Mr Andrew M. Rosemarine
Sir, I turned teetotal having seen, as a barrister, many lives destroyed by alcohol: those of both otherwise law-abiding citizens, who committed acts of violence when drunk, and their victims.
Like Judge Charles Harris, QC, and the Council of Her Majesty’s Circuit Judges (report, August 10), my many Muslim friends also see large-scale loutish alcoholism, and the society which permits it, as decadent.
Allowing pubs to open round the clock will increase Muslim disaffection
and support for those fighting such decadence. Extended drinking hours may cause more terrorism.

Whatever absurdity will next be associated with Islam and terrorism?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Digby on Education

Another week another outburst by Digby Jones, director general of the CBI (Confederation of British Industry).

Here's an extract from today's Observer:

Too many school-leavers arrive at work without the basic skills they need to succeed in business, CBI boss Sir Digby Jones warns today, as thousands of pupils await their GCSE results.
In a scathing attack on the school system, Jones said companies resent having to pay for teenage workers to be taught reading, writing and maths. 'Too often bosses have to pick up the pieces and the bill, with many resorting to basic training to compensate for the shortcomings of an education system they have already contributed to through business taxes,' he said.
More than 40 per cent of employers are unhappy with the skill levels of the school-leavers they hire, a new CBI survey finds, while half of bosses say that their teenage staff lack communication, team-working and problem-solving abilities. 'The UK is the fourth richest economy on earth. Surely it cannot be beyond us to ensure all our young people have the basic skills they need to get on at work?' Jones said.
His intervention came after another improvement in A-level results last week prompted business leaders to complain that the exams have become too easy. With GCSE results due on Thursday, Jones pointed out that only half of pupils achieve a grade C or above in maths, and 60 per cent in English.
'Business does not expect young people to be ready to do specific jobs when they are recruited, but it does expect them to have the basic skills to get started,' he said. 'How can school-leavers hope to succeed in the modern world if they cannot read or write?'

Ok, so reading and writing is important. No disagreement there. But notice whose interests are at stake here and the assumptions on the values of education. I remember a couple of good points somewhere along the line in my education. One was by an ancient history professor which I heard when sitting in on his class. He announced that his job was sadly not to educate people about the values of doing ancient history but to make sure they could spell properly and turn them into lower level managers for employment. Another was by a theology professor who said to me that while he was grateful he learned lots of languages he bitterly regretted not being able to have the breadth some of his students had from school and university, including some knowledge of religions and interdisciplinary approaches. This seems to me at least as valuable today (esp. in the present climate) as learning the basics of grammar and maths.

Man Utd 1-0 Aston Villa

Another Saturday, another fairly comfortable victory. Ruud yet again!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

More on Chancey

There is a response by NCBCPS here. To call it feeble would be being kind.

Mark Chancey on National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools

Jim West has been highlighting the campaign of Mark Chancey (he of top stuff on Galilee fame) on this National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools. It makes some very odd reading in the sense you don't know whether to laugh or cry. On the 'laugh' side look at this:

The curriculum also often relies on extremely idiosyncratic, non-scholarly literature. On page 170, for example, the curriculum says, "Respected scholar, Dr. J. O. Kinnaman, declared: 'Of the hundreds of thousands of artifacts found by the archeologists, not one has ever been discovered that contradicts or denies one word, phrase, clause, or sentence of the Bible, but always confirms and verifies the facts of the Biblical record." This quote clearly reflects the book’s attempt to convince students that the Bible is 100 percent historically accurate. Here Kinnaman is said to be a "respected scholar," but most scholars are unfamiliar with him. Kinnaman argued in his 1940 book Diggers for Facts: The Bible in Light of Archaeology that Jesus and Paul visited Great Britain, that Joseph of Arimathea was Jesus’ uncle and dominated the tin industry of Wales, and that he himself had personally seen Jesus’ school records in India. According to an article by Stephen Mehler, director of research at the Kinnaman Foundation, Kinnaman reported finding a secret entrance into the Great Pyramid of Giza, in which he discovered records from the lost continent of Atlantis. He also claimed that the pyramid was 35,000 years old and was used in antiquity to transmit radio messages to the Grand Canyon. The National Council’s August 4 press release, available at bibleinschools.net under the link titled "NCBCPS responds to attack," defends Kinnaman’s status

This is obviously funny in sad kind of way. But it arguably gets worse:

NCBCPS has responded to the report by spreading misinformation to its followers and the media about me, Texas Freedom Network, the report, the curriculum itself, even its own web site. Its August 4 press release, mentioned above, dismisses the TFN report as the product of "radical humanists" and "anti-religion extremists" who are "attempting to become the biggest censor in the State of Texas," "desperate to ban one book—the Bible—from public schools," and are advocating "totalitarianism." More recently, a representative of the NCBCPS told the press that "anyone who's against this [curriculum] has just got to be French."

Let's hope Mark Chancey is successful.

A New Manchester United Fan

Jim West provides a link to a Danish review of England's 4-1 defeat in Copenhagen to the Danes. Like many/some football/soccer fans I'm not (fortunately) too bothered about England (just Man U) so I'm not too bothered (in fact I think I even laughed. As Jim has made an attempt to fit in (his words), I think that in addition to being an honorary Dane/Copenhagen-er he can now be declared an honorary Manchester United fan. That way he can get the best of both worlds. Can't lose, surely?

More things missed

The reason blogging has been light/non-existent is I've been away for a couple of days wrongly thinking I could to this then. Nevermind.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Everton 0-2 Man Utd

Very good result in what was a potentially tricky opener for United. Ruud and Rooney scoring was good. United dominanted and it was a good all round performance by all accounts. That much was clear from the radio despite Alan 'I hate Fergie and United' Green. United had to start like this otherwise Chelsea are just going to run away with it. If United's top players can just stay fit...

Good to see Teddy Sheringham still scoring at the age of what must be 59.

'Evil' and terror

Michael Bird in a post on his times in the army notes:

An an ex-intelligence operator I know enough about Al-Qaeda to know that they have to be stopped in any way possible. Their goals are (1) to expel all westerners and western influences from Muslim lands, (2) set up a caliphate in the middle-east (like the old Ottoman Empire); and (3) then to export their violence to the rest of the world until the entire human race is ensalved to their pernicious ideology.Disclaimer, not all Muslims hold this, there are moderates and I reckon most Muslims just want to live a happy and peaceful life. But the radicals are not the victims of US foreign policy or merely standing up to US imperialism, they just insidiously evil.

Before I say anything I must stress from the outset that this is interaction with Michael's view and certainly note a personal attack but I feel some response does need to be made. Indeed, the follwing are not aimed at Michael but more broadly at various arguments that are being made these days.

Quite probably (1), (2) and (3) are correct. But as I have said before the resort to 'evil' is just not very helpful in explaining events. I have not problem of course in describing people who will blow up innocent people on trains, buses and buildings as evil. But to say that 'evil' alone is the reason I cannot accept. If US imperialism, the Palestinian issue, the economic sanctions against Iraq, western influence in Saudi, western influence in various Muslim counties with extremely dubious records on human rights, and racism towards Muslims/'Muslim looking' in (say) the UK, for example, did not exist (perceived or not) then the support for terrorist causes would be too minimal to be of note. This only requires perceptions of Western abuse (real or not) and it is no coincidence that bin Laden has used the plight of various Muslims in places like Palestine and Iraq over the years to recruit people. If it was just some 'evil' then why use such rhetoric? It is irrelevant whether terrorists themselves were first hand victims: it just requires the social context.

Compare the situation in C1 Palestine. It would take a brave historian these days to try to get away with explaining the violence of the Sicarii or zealots or some other violent ancient 'terrorist' as simply 'evil' but most rather try to explain the various factors which would give rise to these groups because it seems so obvious due to the evidence avaiable. Could the 'evil alone is to blame methodology' really be applied to the rise these groups or indeed the KKK or far too many mass murders in human history? No, they should be explained carefully with reference to various historical factors. As is often said, to explain is not to accept or forgive. But explaining might help explain why these things happen.

One concern I always have is why the focus is always in Islam. Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Marxists, secularists or whatever have done terrible things and some still do. But why always focus on Islam? There are plenty of other examples that could have been chosen. Why Islam? NT and Xn scholars should never forget the disgraceful attitudes towards Judaism in previous times which have now been shown to be nothing more than bigoted rubbish.

So precisely what is this 'evil'? If we use it as some kind of causal reason for terrorism means it must be defined. Is it a real existing satan working with a force of evil within such terrorists? If so what is this? Some kind of mysterious unseen force? If so can this be put forward as a proper causal argument? If a general legitimate parallel could be found from the first century, would a causal argument based on 'evil' be used? For what it is worth, I doubt it would take off in history depts.

Again, I must stress that this should absolutely not be seen as a personal attack on Michael in anyway whatsoever but just as a reponse to his views and those of others and to provide an alternative argument. I suspect Michael will happily respond to this and I for one would welcome that!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Date of John

Following the discussion on the dating of John based on P52 (see the HTR article mentioned by Mark Goodacre), Sean Winter has mentioned the possibility of potential early dating of John. Although I think a post 70 dating of John is fairly clear, it is the critique of assumptions mentioned by Sean that I think are sadly ignored too often in NT scholarship e.g. developed theology or Christology that suggests a late date. While there are serious problems with JAT Robinson's arguments in favour of early datings of certain NT documents, his attack on such assumptions are important. How long does it really take to 'devleop' theologically? 5 years, 10 years, 40 years? How long does it really take to develop a 'high' christology? This is not to say that Christians of (say) 35 CE necessarily had a very high Christology just that the arguments of developed theology necessarily = late date does not hold very much weight. Not to mention the sometimes subjective nature of 'developed theology'.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Recent articles

There have been several links to articles just out and just I can't hope to keep up. The philosophical looking Michael Pahl gives a few links, as do Mark Goodacre and Jim West. Sean 'the Baptist' Winter (welcome Sean) has just added the latest Currents in Biblical Research which looks as if there is an article by Michael Bird on Jesus and gentiles. Incidentally, I'm pretty sure I've met Sean at previous BNTCs. Or am I just imagining things?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Man Utd 3-0 Debreceni

A pretty good and unsurprising result really. United looked pretty comfortable, although it would have been interesting to see how they would have reacted if Debreceni had that goal allowed just after half time. Rooney was, as ever, excellent. Ronaldo wasn't far behind him either. Both are looking like top, top players and if they can stay fit all season United could still surprise a few people. Good to see Ruud finishing and playing well again. I wish Park had been given longer as he showed a few good touches as did the teenager Rossi. Also good to see Van Der Sar. Not much to do but kept the ball short and kept possession frequently.

Hopefully no problems for the second leg and I can still see United challenging this season for both Europe and the League bar any freak non-turning up for drugs tests, international commitments and injuries.

The whole Glazer bros thing looked suspiciously spin doctored.

Expository Times

Mark Goodacre has noted the Sept edition of Expository Times. Given that I've got something in it on the historical Jesus' attitude to rich people of his time I thought I should exploit the free plug of this blog. The other NT article is by David G. Horrell, 'Familiar Friend or Alien Stranger? On Translating the Bible'. Both our articles were coincidentally products of the Exeter NT group run by David Horrell in the Dept of Theology. David's article really must be read by anyone interested in ways in which the Bible can be translated with lots of important stuff on inclusive language and cultural differences. And it includes swear words.

BNTC Jesus Seminar

I've just found out that Mark Goodacre has updated the BNTC seminar pages. Firstly, thanks to Mark for this, esp. as he won't even be at the BNTC.

Here's the Jesus seminar list (abstracts found here):

Maurice Casey, 'The Solution to the Son of Man Problem'

Andy Angel, 'Like a bad penny - the son of man, again!'

Rafael Rodriguez, 'Discoursing Jesus: Memorializing the Healings of the Historical Jesus'

Maurice Casey's paper is a continuation or perhaps even completion of his work on son of man over the past 30 years or so. The basic idea is that the Aramaic idiom can be used with a general level of meaning with particular reference to the speaker.

Andy Angel learned Aramaic under Maurice Casey in a class of 2 (I was the other one) so this should be a very interesting, if not incestuous session. Andy Angel did his PhD on all sorts of weird and wonderful monsters and the Chaoskampf motif in Second Temple Judaism. He takes a different approach to Maurice Casey arguing that if the Aramaic idiom was present it would have been translated by a different and available phrase from 'Semitic Greek'. Consequently, he argues, the gospel idiom would have referred to specific individual.

Rafael Rodriguez is a PhD student at Sheffield with particular interest in historical Jesus studies and theories of memory and reputation. He argues material that may well have been added by earliest Christians and gospel writers is not useless in reconstructing the historical Jesus. On the contrary, memory can also provide some key insights. There are some interesting connections here with Dunn's recent book on Jesus.

I have not really done justice to the papers so, again, look at the abstracts.

There is also one paper in the Synoptics seminar which is of particular interest to me:

Kenneth A. Olson, You Who Would Destroy the Temple
The use of dramatic irony elsewhere in Mark's gospel, and particularly in the sayings of Jesus' opponents in the passion narrative, suggests that the repeated accusations that Jesus said he would destroy the temple (Mk. 14.58, 15.29) were composed after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. All of the accusations and taunts that Jesus' opponents bring against him in the trial and crucifixion scenes are true, not in the way that the opponents intend, but in ways the Christian audience of the gospel is meant to understand. This implies that author of the gospel knew that the temple had been destroyed at the time he wrote and expected his audience to know it as well.

I have made some comments on this material and obviously I would take a different approach. I'll have to see if I can get a copy of the paper or something.

More things missed

Firstly, just to repeat, I never got married and went to the wedding of someone else but thanks for the congratulations anyway! An important moral about checking posts is in all this somewhere.

There has been a few listings recently. I'm not going to give a top ten or anything because I would just change my mind immediately but... As for the Jesus books (I think started by Michael Bird) the top two for me by far are Sanders and Vermes. Vermes gave us Jesus the Jew. This changed the face of Jesus studies in the long run and to this day, despite all the lip service paid to the Jewishness of Jesus, Vermes' Jesus still needs to be re-read because I think he's got the general picture spot on, even if some details may be disputed. Sanders too changed the face of Jesus studies, esp. when combined with Vermes. Again a very Jewish Jesus. There are problems, esp. his downplaying of conflict, but the eschatological Jesus, the stress on Jesus' Jewishness, and his overtly historical agenda all contribute to making groundbreaking work. Only Meier really comes close to these two. A lot of the other work seems to me to be wrestling with (avoiding?) the ramifications of Vermes and Sanders.

A small word for Crossan too. While I think his picture is completely wrong, his insistence on interdisciplinary approaches has often been ignored. I suspect that once his Cynic-esque social reformer Jesus and his use of primary sources are demolished then many scholars think everything else falls without properly engaging with his interdisciplnary approach. Hopefully one day the emphasis on social sciences will be seen as Crossan's legacy.

Now the biblical books started off by Loren Rosson. Very interesting to see Jim West not include any of the synoptics but more interesting to see (given Jim's theological preferences) no mention of Galatians and the inclusion of James.

If it was my top ten of favourites, I would (like Loren) probably go for Ecclesiastes. Some of the aggressive prophets like Amos would come high, not to mention the NT equivalents like James. Job is impressive but I really don't like the ending which seems to just give up on the extensive critique of the previous chapters. But this was Loren's wording: If we could save only ten of its sixty-six books from extinction, what would they be? So technically this doesn't have to be favourites. In this case I would go for Leviticus which as it turns out happens to be one of my favourites too. The details of purity law have become a bit of a favourite of mine over the past few years. Leviticus inspired the intricate system of rabbinic purity laws. Without Leviticus it would be very difficult to understand where the already difficult rabbinic system came from. With it we can see a highly logical and sophisticated system.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

No blogging for a week or so (probably)

I'm off for a week to complete some research with a wedding along the way. This almost certainly means a week without this usual rubbish unless I can get some time on the internet. So until next time...

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Some blogging stats

Here are a couple of interesting comments I noticed in the Guardian on bloggers.

A new blog is born every second, according to blog tracking site Technorati's latest research into the explosion of personal publishing sites.
Dave Sifry, founder and CEO of Technorati - a specialist search engine for blogs - said 80,000 new weblogs are being created every day. Technorati tracked more than 14.2 million blogs this month, compared to 7.8 million in March.
But the statistics show not everyone who starts a blog stays the course. Although the blogosphere has doubled in size in just over five months, only around half of all blogs are "active" - in other words they have been updated in the past three months - and just 13% are updated every week or more often.

The full report is available here.

Would it be fair to say Bible bloggers aren't so typical?

Greatest achievements of modern theology: liberation theology

Over at Faith and Theology, Benjamin Myers is providing the definitive top 5 theological achievements of modern theology (no. 5 Barth's doctrine of election). Jim West has now given us his top five.

One achievement that I think should be mentioned is the remarkable development of Liberation Theology in Latin America where social gospel was really put in to practice in a radically new way and gained a great deal of popular support. You could be its strongest opponent but surely it is undeniable that here we have one theological movement effectively driven 'from below' that has made people from popes to presidents to academics at the very least take note of its impact. I think it would also be fair to say that it has also influenced the developments of feminist and black theologies.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Postmodernism, relativism etc.

Not sure what's happened here. I’m pretty sure I posted this and saw this on my blog (before the football post) but it seems to have disappeared. If the other version does re-appear this is a slightly modified form of it that (un)fortunately managed to survive as I just so happened (untypically as it happens) to type it up on my computer first. I should point out that I’m not drunk or anything like that. Just confused.

These are some chaotic thoughts on relativism and (perceptions of?) postmodernism/poststructuralism (or whatever label you like). Though on a different track, the thought process was set off by a combination of Michael Bird’s blogging on critical realism and some of the comments made elsewhere on this blog. Oh, and the horror of having to do loads of lifting and moving tomorrow (brother moving house, me doing the hard work).

I do not think that there are many people, even on the most extreme wing of what is labelled postmodern or poststructuralist thought, who would go as far as denying a factual event. The perception that there are such people is certainly there. Perhaps one of the most notorious examples is Jean Baudrillard’s The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. This caused some outcry and I cannot deny that I thought it was a very weird book (the most unusual academic book I have ever read). But it seems (I say ‘seems’ because the book does not have a structured argument in the traditional sense but reads more like a long poem) that no truth claims as to whether the there was physical fighting. Rather the analysis was more on what was happening in the media, something completely different from what was happening on the ground.

So if there is no denial of fact, what then? Causality has been one area of attack. Now here I am guilty of being a bit old fashioned in the eyes of some. While not denying that there are impositions of narrative, models, whatever, there is still a place for causality. Generalisations from similar situations, so long as they are properly backed up with evidence and are aware of historical particularities, can provide some explanations of historical events. Interestingly, there is a fair bit of Christian history writing which could be immune from post-modern criticisms of causality, writing which attempts to stress whether Acts is or is not factually accurate, whether Jesus did or did not do this or that miracle or action and so on. (Or: whether Mark was or was not written at this or that date). Causality, despite some claiming otherwise, is not always high on the agenda of NT scholars, apart from the arguments as to what degree Jesus influenced the subsequent movement.

The question of presuppositions. Yes, postmodern writers do go for this a lot but perhaps get too much credit. Noting presuppositions is hardly new. The history of biblical studies itself has plenty of pre-1960s examples, as do other disciplines. Schweitzer is perhaps the most famous. I suppose the emphasis on not just others we disagree with but even ourselves being hopelessly biased is the key stress. This does not mean no chance of objectivity: there is always the test of factual evidence in many cases. What’s more, people driven by a wide variety of ideologies have made genuine insights in sciences and humanities. We all argue and think there must be a correct answer or correct answers. Sometimes people are persuaded. But if this was all just a clash of equally valid (or invalid) arguments we would get nowhere. It would be very difficult for people function if each argument was just as (in)valid as another.

Perhaps the most controversial of all is beliefs and ethics. The decline of meta-narratives such as Marxism, Christianity, or whatever may be true but it is not confined to the so-called post-modern period. The Gk Magical Papyri reveal a sometimes bewildering array of mixed beliefs. Some scholars like to compare the situation at Corinth with the mixture of religious views in ‘postmodern’ contemporary societies. It is also true, I think, that if we don’t follow Marxism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Freudianism, or any other ‘meta-narrative’ that does not automatically make us relativists in a strong sense? Let’s say we pick and choose what we want. That may mean that such behaviour is a particularly notable feature of the so-called postmodern period but does it imply relativism in the sense that ‘anything goes’?

Virtually all religions have some dramatic truth claim and many would happily agree that their meta-narrative is true. But how significantly different in terms of truth claims is this really from the way most people behave? Many people would broadly identify with the left of right of politics without being a Marxist, Labourite, Thatcherite, Tory or whatever but hold to a set of convictions and assumptions they believe are true or at least adhere to, often derived from Enlightenment ideals (another target of some postmodernists, not to mention a certain bishop), and most would be reasonably consistent. Of course for all we know they may be grounded in nothingness, or at least they are ultimately ideals which cannot be ‘proven’ but this is true for religious people too. Very few people operate without making truth claims that cannot be proven. It may be impossible for an atheist or agnostic to say that we shouldn’t murder people but very few of them would accept that murdering is a good thing. They may see it as a means of making societies function, it may even be a part of the evolutionary function of human beings, but it is not a moral absolute that is mysteriously ‘out there’. For all the truth claims made by Marxism the idea of socialist revolution can hardly be claimed as an absolute historical ‘law’ (though I know not all Marxists would claim that).

So I suppose through this haze my general view would be in favour of picking and choosing and seeing what works. I think many people actually work that way, even people who hold to ‘meta-narratives’, religious or secular. None of us may be able to prove the grounding of our moral absolutes but few of us function as if they do not exist and many postmodernists/poststructuralists would agree.

Incidentally although I have written similar things in print this doesn’t officially count. They are chaotic thoughts as I said and they are liable to be changed at any given time. I’m also paying attention to the radio and listening to a particularly good set. Ok, got that?

Hebrews and Theology

A few bloggers have noted the St Andrews conference (July 18-22, 2006) on Hebrews and Theology. I doubt I'll go, and it's a bit expensive for my moth ridden wallet, but there is an impressive line up across the board so the standard should be very high.

On the subject of being able to change your mind...

There seems to have been some positive feedback on football blogging and I do have a couple of thoughts.

Michael Owen to United. Once this would have horrified me. Owen always seemed to be the Tim Henman of English football. BUT he does score at a high level and Saha's future looks doubtful while Alan Smith looks like he'll be shifting back into midfield. So...

And Essien is never going to Arsenal or United. Lyon are trying to get Chelsea to cough up more money. Probably.