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Friday, March 16, 2007


There is a certain purity (and quite right too you might add) that anyone studying the NT, historical Jesus, and Chrsitian origins really ought to know Greek. Then Hebrew perhaps. Aramaic or Latin or Coptic might come in third. But should not the purity applied to learning Greek be applied more broadly? I mean if commonly cited and discussed texts such as Daniel, 1 Enoch, Dead Sea Scrolls, Thomas etc. are to be commonly cited and discussed and if NT/Christian origins scholars are writing lengthy sections or articles on these texts, should it be stressed that not only should knowledge of Aramaic, Hebrew and Coptic be crucial but also Ge'ez/Ethiopic (if a text such as 1 Enoch is being discussed). I know from experience (rather experiencing someone else's experience - you can try and guess who I am talking about) that the son of man problem would require knowledge of several languages, including Ge'ez/Ethiopic yet plenty of people are prepared to discuss the problem (me included - I'm telling myself off, don't worry).

Now I have virtually no idea of the range of languages people have but I haven't met many people who read Ge'ez/Ethiopic (I don't) and I keep being told that not many NT/HJ/CO scholars know Aramaic. How many read Coptic?

Now I know life is too short for most to learn every language and write meaningfully on various themes of the NT or explanations of Christian origins and that frequently you just have to rely on what experts are saying in other fields, but, and this might just be me misunderstanding the situation, is this not a problem given the importance of some of these texts for the study of Christian origins?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Christian Origins List

The new Christian Origins list run by Bill Arnal and Zeba Crook has already provoked a bit of debate and reaction (more specifically its description) but it is worth noting again:

This list focuses on the social and historical location and the earliest Jesus communities, the development of their thought concerning Jesus, the development of their writings, the spread of their movement, and related topics: in other words, the stuff of Christian Origins. This is a moderated and scholarly list: lurking is welcome, but contributors to the list will either have knowledge of the languages, methodologies, and history of scholarship pertinent to the academic study of Christian Origins, or a willingness to become conversant in these. Contributors to this list attempt to understand the the various phenomena of Christians Origins exclusively from an humanist perspective: to explain the rise of Christianity and the development of Christian beliefs without invoking or relying upon such assumptions such as the existence of God, the reality of miracles, foreknowledge of the future, resuscitations of the dead, or any unique status accorded to Jesus, his earliest followers, or Christianity as a religion. This list takes the following quote of Jacques Berlinerblau with the utmost seriousness: “[T]he academic study of the Bible . . . desperately needs an infusion of learned critics who are willing to draw blood . . . Such an endeavor would not necessarily be exclusionary. All researchers would be welcome to participate as long as they pronounce something approximating a secular shahada, or profession of faith: to love critique more than God” (The Secular Bible: Why Nonbelievers must Take Religion Seriously [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005], p. 139).

Obviously I have interests here and I have wondered what a more explicitly 'secular' discourse might look like so this should prove to be of some interest. Significantly (for me) is that there are a fair few people of this mindset now around which may suggest that these are interesting times for the historical study of Christian origins.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Last Night's Debate

Here are just some thoughts on the debate with Craig last night....

Craig seemed to me to be nice man. The debate wasn't dirty and there was nothing below the belt. There was the usual rhetoric and criticisms and all that but I don't mind that and I imagine Craig is long used to that side of things. I know some people are reluctant to do such things because they feel they'd lose their temper but I'm not sure if these things ought to be taken wholly seriously: it is the debating style format after all.

As for content, well there were no surpises on both sides assuming you've read stuff by either or us. I went for the argument based on visions interpreted as a bodily raised figure which would require the assumption that Jesus' tomb must have been empty so it is no surprise that stories of an empty tomb emerged. My guess is that the Markan empty tomb story is largely a work of fiction designed to explain why no one knew about the empty tomb. But even if the empty tomb was a historical fact, we do not have to resort to underlying supernatural explanations, because, like any story of the supernatural, there are usually enough alternative explanations. I also repeated my point that Paul has no eyewitness accounts of the empty tomb in contrast to eyewitness accounts of visions and Mark has the women telling no one. In historical terms these two earliest pieces of evidence are not strong pieces of evidence at all. I did add that I had no intention of persuading people that the literal bodily resurrection is false but inn historical terms it cannot really be treated as a serious argument, other than in the sense the earliest Christians believed they had seen a bodily raised Jesus.

Craig used some criticisms previously aimed at my views. He cited Dale Allison's intro in the JSHJ resurrection issue. But what was particularly interesting was that I don't think he cited Wright's criticisms of me in that issue. While Allison's criticisms can (and will) be answered, I think they were measured and non-polemical, and probably the criticisms anyone should have turned to if debating me on the resurrection. But I thought Wright's were very weak and too polemical in the sense they were often lacking substance and misreading what I said. Wright often just ignored key criticisms (the resurrection of the saints really does need to be answered properly by Wright, esp. when compared with Wright's comments on the 'obviously fictitious' in non-Christian traditions). I think is obvious when reading the response in conjuntion with my article but I always wonder if others think the same way. What was interesting in terms of last night's debate was the Craig did go for me on dates and haggadic stories but if I remember rightly he did not mention Wright's criticisms. Wright said that I was using stories that refer to supposed events centuries before (e.g. Exodus) whereas I explicitly mentioned fictitious storytelling much closer to the time of the individual or events in my article. I can't imagine Craig did not notice Wright's argument so I wonder if he noticed this too?

Anyway, there are some thoughts. I enjoyed the evening, others seemed to enjoy it too (well, that's what they told me anyway) and the Sheffield students seemed to be well into it. So that's no bad thing, is it?

UPDATE: Philip Davies has some thoughts on the debate on Jim West's blog.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


In case you forgot...

Was Jesus Bodily Raised from the Dead?
MAJOR DEBATE with James Crossley and William Lane Craig

7.30pm, Tuesday 6th March, SHEFFIELD
University Student Union Auditorium, Western Bank,
S10 2TN

Monday, March 05, 2007

Man United and the Prem

Jim West has forced me return with this post! And as much doesn't seem to be happening in the biblical studies world...

And I haven’t spoken about football for a while and good reason. Previously when I got the Man Utd hopes up I was cruelly emailed/taunted by supporters of other teams (you know who you are). Now I certainly do not think the title race is anything like over but United are in as good a position as they have been for a few seasons now and it is really their for United to blow it. So why this season? Here are what must be the key reasons:

Giggs has played consistently well. I never thought he’d last this far into his 30s at this high level because he is a pace player and there is a tendency for pace players to really dip in their early 30s (hamstrings and all that). Whether he can go one till 2010 as Queiroz reckons, I don’t know, but he has show the there are another couple of seasons left.

Scholes is back after missing last season. Scholes is THE most underrated player over the last 10 years. I know everyone thinks he is excellent but I don’t think he has ever got the true credit he deserves. He always has been a far better player than Beckham and few have the touch, passing ability, shooting ability and all-round technique that he has. Certainly no English player has. But combined with this…

Carrick has played well without being noticed. He also passes the ball very nicely and sits in front of the defence. The fact that he gets the ball quickly and accurately up to the front men, moves the game quickly and is always appreciated by strikers. Carrick and Scholes are a very effective midfield pairing and keep possession well unlike…

Fletcher who gives the ball away far too easily with those ‘disguise passes’. The less games he has and the more Carrick has, the better.

Rooney may not have had his greatest season but he remains one of the best. He gives the team good shape and is very effective even when not scoring. And when he does, he is always capable for producing some great, great goals. When he hits form he will be regarded the best in the world but for the moment that tag has been given to…

Cristiano Ronaldo. Whether he stays for a long time at United, I don’t know but he has been lethal and has scored plenty more goals than expected. He is playing better than anyone in the world this season as many people keep pointing out and that obviously helps!

Winning when not playing well. Beating Liverpool is always hilarious but beating them now and then with 10 men, luckily, and with a last minute goal is nice to see. United have played very well this season but in a couple of games, results have been down to effort and luck. Previous seasons such games would have been drawn.

Staying relatively injury-free has been a big boost, obviously.

Losing RvN could have backfired but United have scored regularly and not relied on one striker. Clearly Ruud and Fergie weren’t getting on and so Ruud had to go. Besides, for all his faults, Saha does possibly give the team a bit more shape.

But defensively United have been sound. Neville is as good as ever but Vidic has been vital. His uncompromising style (exactly what you want from at least one defender) and some good headed goals have played a crucial role. United’s defence has been nice and solid, as has Chelsea’s. But United have scored by not relying on one player as Chelsea have and have scored so many goals it effectively counts as an extra point.

There are other reasons but the development of young players like Rooney and Ronaldo combined with the experience of the golden generation (Giggs, Scholes, Neville) has come good. Whether United win the league is more or less up to United now.

UPDATE: JB Hood rightly told me off for not mentioning Edwin Van der Saar who has been United's much need Best Keeper since Peter Schm. He has been a big difference maker these past couple of seasons.