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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Teen Bible

Ah, my article on the infamous Teen Bible - 'OH-MY-GOD It's So the Teen Bible' - is available on the SBL Forum. I've got to say I enjoyed writing this one. And that Teen Bible is entertaining in a perverse kind of way.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Nadia Abu el-Haj

I've mentioned Nadia Abu el-Haj's book and the controversy surrounding it and her upcoming tenure a few times now and there have been some serious allegations levelled at her. I've read bits of it and found nothing so far that is outrageous. I am now going to read the whole lot to find out if what has been said about it is true. But el-Haj has come up on Jim West's Biblical Studies discussion group today and I looked up one of the major issues - her handling of Joseph's Tomb - as it is conveniently enough on the last page of the book. Solomonia discusses it here (note the comments). There may be more in el-Haj's book that I don't know about but I don't see that el-Haj has said what some of her critics claim in this passage. Here is the quotation I also put on Biblical Studies:

‘It is within the context of that distinctive history of archaeological practice and settler nationhood that one can understand why it was “that thousands of Palestinians stormed the site” of Joseph’s Tomb in the West Bank city of Nablus, looting it and setting it alight during the renewed intifada that rocked Palestine and Israel in the fall of 2000. Joseph’s Tomb was not destroyed simply because of its status as a Jewish religious shrine. The symbolic resonance of its destruction reaches far deeper than that. It needs to be understood in relation to a colonial-national history in which modern political rights have been substantiated in and expanded through the material signs of historic presence. In destroying the tomb, Palestinian demonstrators eradicated one “fact on the ground.” Archaeology remains salient in this world of ongoing contestation. It is a sign of colonial presence and national rights, of secularism and science, as various groups in Palestine and Israel engage in struggles to (re)configure the Israel and polity and to determine its territorial limits.’ (Facts on the Ground, p. 281)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

James Tabor, the Resurrection and the End of Mark

The resurrection traditions have interested me in recent years (though more by accident intially - anoter story). James Tabor raises similar issues concerning the ending of Mark (i.e. Mk 16.1-8) to those that I also think need to be addressed properly. He argues,

The implications of this earliest tradition of Jesus’ burial and the empty tomb are enormous. Paul, in the 50s AD, reports the tradition that Jesus, after being raised from the dead on the third day, appeared to Peter, then the Twelve, then to a group of five hundred brothers at once, then to James, then to all the apostles, and finally, but much later, to him–Paul (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). Both Luke and John report similar appearances of the risen Jesus to various individuals and groups on several occasions. Indeed, these sightings or appearances are considered by milliions the absolute bedrock of the Christian faith.

So how could it be that Mark knows nothing of any of this? And even Matthew, who does report that Jesus met the women who fled from the tomb, nonetheless knows of none of these specific appearances that Paul, Luke and John record taking place in Jerusalem. He tells us the disciples went to Galilee as they had been instructed and there the Eleven apostles “saw” Jesus on a mountain–but some doubted. It is clear that Matthew has little of substance to add to his basic source Mark, and that what he knows of the “resurrection” is what he expands from Mark, which makes Mark’s account even more noteworthy in terms of its fundamental significance.

The clear implication of Mark’s account of the discovery of the empty tomb and the renewed faith of the disciples in Galilee is that there is a non-Pauline version of the resurrection faith circulating within the Jesus movement that was not built upon the kinds of traditions, tales, and stories we get in Paul, Luke-Acts, and John. Indeed, even though Paul is usually dated ten or fifteen years earlier than Mark, the tradition that Mark reflects could very likely predate Paul. In other words, it is unlikely that Mark could write what he writes for a believing Christian community unless the way he report things is already grounded in the circles within which he moves. It is highly unlikely that Mark was created in a day. On the contrary, one should assume he is passing on and reflecting a way of thinking about the risen Jesus that he finds normative and common, and that Matthew, writing some years later, also passing on with very little expansion or modification. Neither of them know of any tales of appearances of the risen Jesus in Jerusalem in the days following his death. There is no indication that Mark is even aware of any alternative views or traditions. Had he known of such, and agreed with them, he surely would have passed them on. In this case I think we can say that Mark’s silence is “deafening.”

This earliest account of the Jesus story offers us resources to rethink and consider alternative possibilities when it comes to evaluating the significance of Jesus’ death and the nature of the resurrection faith among his earliest followers. Mark offers us a clear indication that Paul’s version of things was not an exclusive way of understanding Jesus and his role as a messianic suffering servant figure and crucified son of God.

There is something else I think is also significant here. I have played around with the idea of using the Markan resurrection account as part of my early dating for Mark and you never know I may still. But, anyway, what I think is notable is that Mark ends with women telling no one and Paul, in contrast to to the visions, has no eyewitness to the empty tomb. It may well be true that Mark and Paul assume an empty tomb but given that these two earliest sources on the resurrection of Jesus give such weak evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus, then aren't arguments trying to prove the bodily really resurrection happened doomed to failure (NOTE: this has no bearing on whether the resurrection happened or not but rather that arguments trying to prove the historicity of the bodily resurrection really happening are going to be very difficult to make...you know the arguments...just don't accuse me of things I don't say...)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

History Today and the Christmas Story

I was meant to publicise this ages ago but got sidetracked. The December 2006 issue of the popular history magazine, History Today, has a cover feature called 'The First Christmas'. Geza Vermes gives a critical analysis of the birth and infancy narratives while I contextualise this in the history of critical scholarship on Christian Origins. Unless you go and buy it from your newsagents or whatever, you'll need subcription to get the whole lot online. I'm giving up even making sarcastic comments on self-publicity. Plenty do it, right?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Philip Davies' guest blog and some more thoughts

I was meant to mention this a bit ago but as Jim West's blog moves at electric pace I see no harm in bringing Philip Davies' guest blog to attention again.

I couldn't resist mentioning this bit. I make no comment but it is of relevance to topics raised here...
[The book exhibitors], interestingly, mix their academic and confessional lists and titles. This, of course, reflects the ethos of the Society, and publishers can’t be blamed for making money; that’s their business. I have never asked whether the annual Astronomers Meeting has a book display featuring titles on astrology (surely not papers or sessions on it?). Well, we are obviously different..for the time being.

There was also this interesting comment:
Not only is there so much talent about in the younger generations, but also a lack of dogma, a real curiosity and openness. I often wonder what questions and methods will be dominating biblical studies when some of these line up for their volumes of appreciative tribute.

In discussion I've noted some very different agendas among younger people working on Christian origins and I hope it goes beyond discussion into future publications. But I did detect more wide ranging dogmatism in the sense that there were very clear battlelines drawn between groups from different perspectives. I'm just not sure some sides will have debate with the other or even want to aste their time with the other. My suspicion was that the big debates of the 1990s might see distinct groups go off in their own direction without a care what the other is doing. E.g. Jesus Seminar and Christian Origins group in one direction, the evangelicals in another, and add whatever you want. Plenty of preaching to the converted going on I felt at many papers. I also think there has been a hardening of the secular issue particularly in the States (on both sides) and I don't think that is unrelated. I just wonder, is anyone really going to care what the other is doing? But, as I say, it was only an impression from SBL so maybe it is not worth much.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

From the British Museum to Campus Watch: thoughts from an outsider

A busy week but easy to catch up thanks to Jim West's epic carnival. And the interview with Loren Rosson is revealing not just for his background but visually: we can now see Loren looks like.

But at the end of the week was what is now looking like the annual Sheffield Biblical Studies trip to the British Museum for the stff and postgraduates. Last year (largely) the Persians, this year (largely) the Assyrians, including the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III and, once again, the massive Siege of Lachish.

As with last year, a question for Hebrew Bible people (I know this blog is more or less restricted to NT but...) and one no doubt influenced by being at Sheffield. Is it possible to write a history of famous biblical individuals (David, Solomon etc.). Now I realise that lots has been written on all this and the debate rages but the archaeological evidence for people like Jehu or David tells us little more than they existed. Given that the Hebrew Bible material was written centuries after the events in many cases is there any way to judge whether much of it happened? Note, this is not saying half of those figures did or did not exist or that the biblical texts can or cannot be telling lots of history. It just seems that it is virtually impossible to write a history of individuals without the sufficent evidence to support and by being removed in time. One other issue in comparison with Christian origins is that with someone like Jesus, we at least have a movement that made some significant shifts away from Judaism as had been known and would become a gentile religion in a relatively short space of time so at least there is something else to assist historical re-construction. I have problems with history of individuals anyway but in the case of ancient Israel it seems that the people and places described in the biblical version of the past, the historian is almost forced to write a wider social history e.g. one based on material remains looking at 'everyday life' and social and political systems. I know some people who would push for this anyway but it seems to me that there is little option. As someone not in that area, is that a fair comment?

I've had a few discussions with Sheffield people on all this but I'm also thinking out loud because of the recent issue of the challenge to Nadia Abu El-Haj getting tenure at Barnard. The whole el-Haj issue has been discussed on this blog in the past and on various other blogs. In addition to being Campus Watched, there is a New York Sun article not afraid to view the world in terms of good vs evil. I don't know if all the claims made about el-Haj are true (I've only read the first couple of chapters and there was nothing outrageous there) but it is interesting the way the debate is framed, including the tying in of so-called 'minimalism' in biblical studies with anti-Zionism and even those who challenge modern Israel's existence. It seems there is an implicit framing of the debate about ancient Israel in these terms in the whole article. As I recall from what I've read, is it fair to say that some of the 'minimalistic' claims are more in line with what I was saying above, i.e. there is no way of knowing about much of the history, other than the various individuals existing, rather than denying that they existed at all?

Of course, the debate is not all about individuals. There is also the broader issue of the state and political structures. And guess who is brought in at this point...

More mainstream archaeologists, according to Mr. Dever, trace the origins of the Israelite state to the 10th or 9th century B.C.E., contend that Bible was written in 8th or 7th century B.C.E., and that the biblical stories are "based on some historical facts. "Their minds are made up," Mr. Dever said of the minimalists, whom he calls "nihilists."

So here's another issue. I know certain people who have worked on it obviously, and know that Hebrew Bible bloggers have blogged on it, but here it is again: is there archaeological evidence for a state so early in human history? And, again, and I aks this partly out of ignorance, is anyone denying that those biblical stories are not based on some historical facts?

And what makes the minimalists 'nihilists'????