Wednesday, September 12, 2007

New Paul and Scripture Seminar page

I'm developing a blog site for the Society of Biblical Literature Paul and Scripture seminar. You'll find it here:
Paul and Scripture
It is under construction but should be more useful and interactive than the old site. So far it just has seminar paper abstracts (2006, 2007) and papers (2006).

Monday, September 3, 2007

Two Perspectives on Paul

I'm presenting this table to my students in New Testament Theology and Ethics this fall. Old news to Paul scholars, of course, but radical stuff for the uninitiated. I'm painfully aware of my over-simplification on almost every level. Corrections and suggestions for improvement welcome.

Lutheran / Traditional Perspective


The “New Perspective”

Central Concern

Justification: how can sinners be made right before God?

Gentile inclusion: on what terms may Gentiles join God’s people?

State of 1st c. Judaism

Burdened by the Law; dead in sin; marked by hypocrisy and legalism; bound up with sin, death & law (in contrast to grace, life & faith).

Vibrant, dynamic, diverse; a religion of grace; pattern of religion:covenantal nomism*” (Sanders); in (spiritual) exile (Wright)

*"Covenantal Nomism” (according to Sanders): the notion that the Israelite’s place in God’s plan is determined by the covenant which God established with Israel, and that obedience to the law is Israel’s proper response to God’s initial act of grace.

The Law in Judaism

Onerous burden for those who broke it; cause of boasting for those who kept it.

A gracious, delightful gift from God, “holy and righteous and good” (Rom 7:12; Ps 119:97)

Paul’s problem with Judaism

Legalism: it promotes legalistic works righteousness; merit theology; pride in accomplishments; faulty view of grace and works

Nationalism / racism / exclusivism / particularism: the role of the Law in establishing boundary markers, Jewish privilege (Dunn); “It is not Christianity” (Sanders)

Paul’s condition prior to conversion

A frustrated, guilt-ridden sinner who valued works over faith, and who struggled unsuccessfully to measure up to the Law’s demands (Rom 7:14-24).

A Law-keeping (blameless) Pharisee who denied Jesus was God’s Messiah (Gal 1:14; Phil 3:4-8). Images of a distressed Paul are projections of the West’s “introspective conscience.”

Paul’s conversion

Paul leaves his now-dead ancestral religion and its Law to trust and follow Christ. Paul rejects Law-keeping as impossible and/or pride-producing.

Paul is not “converted” from Judaism but “called” within it to be the apostle to the Gentiles (Stendahl). Paul didn’t so much convert from Judaism but to Christianity (Sanders). See 2 Cor 3:4-18; Phil 3:3-11.

Justification by faith

The center / organizing principle of Paul’s Gospel: God’s gracious declaration that a sinner is right before God through his faith in Christ’s work. God’s response to human failure / pride.

A “subsidiary crater” in Paul’s thought (Schweitzer); a polemical / apologetic doctrine developed to defend the full status of Gentile converts and to refute Jewish-Christian efforts to impose circumcision, etc. on them.

Paul’s Gospel

Repent of dead works and trust in Christ’s atoning work to be justified / saved (Rom. 3:21-24). Key antithesis: Law versus Gospel.

Jesus is the anointed, risen and exalted Lord over all nations (Wright; Rom 1:1-5). Salvation comes by transfer to the realm of his lordship, by union with / participation in Christ (Sanders; 2 Cor 5:17; Rom 6:3-7).

Paul’s reasoning

Forward: from plight to solution: Law-sin-guilt à faith in Christ à justification apart from Law

Backward: from solution to plight (Sanders): Christ à various (unsystematic, inconsistent, incompatible) assessments of sin & Law (Gal 2:21; 3:19, 24-25; Rom 3:20; 4:15; 10:4)

Or: From plight to solution to plight (Wright): exile à Christ à sin / law

Theme of Romans

A “compendium of Christian doctrine” (Melancthon).
A theological treatise on justification by grace through faith.
Romans 9-11 are a parenthesis.

An occasional document defending the faithfulness of God (to the nations, to Israel) and the co-equal status of Jews and Gentiles.
Romans 9-11 are the
climax of the letter.

Works of the Law (erga nomou, e.g. Rom.3:28)

Striving to do good; good works performed for salvation

Observing Torah; what pious Jews do; only bad when imposed on Gentiles; passé because it excludes Gentiles.

Pistis Christou (e.g., Ga.2:16)

Faith in Christ (objective genitive; anthropological reading) (Dunn)

Faith(fulness) of Christ = subjective genitive; Christological reading (Hays)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Israel as Rome

I recently spent a month traveling with 19 students through five Middle Eastern countries including Israel/Palestine. (This explains in part my prolonged absence from blogdom.) As we walked the streets of old Jerusalem, passed through checkpoints, visited holy sites, dialogued with religious figures and activists—as we experienced the modern Israel/Palestine conflict, we could not help but notice parallels between 1st and 21st century Israel. Much like Jerusalem in the days of Herod and Jesus, today’s Old City pulses with the cries of merchants and the prayers of holy men. Pilgrims flush with foreign currency banter and barter in the streets. Armed soldiers patrol near the Temple Mount. Rumors of foreign incursion or homegrown uprising circulate.

The irony, of course, is that Israel today plays the imperial role once filled by Rome while the Palestinians mirror the part played by the Jews of ancient Galilee and Judea. Yesterday’s Jewish Zealots are today’s Palestinian insurgents. Well, sort of. And Rome’s Legions foreshadow the modern IDF. The-state-of-Israel-qua-Rome justifies its incursions and human rights abuses in the name of security and economics, while perpetuating a caste system that extends full privileges to Jews and only a minority of Israeli Arabs. Palestinian-militants-qua-Zealots justify targeting civilians in the name of honor, clan loyalty and divine mandate, while shamelessly recruiting “peasants” whose harsh living conditions engender only rage, despair and shame. Tragically, eyes on both sides of the conflict seem blind to “the things that make for peace.”

I do not excuse the suicide attacks and summary executions perpetrated by militant Palestinians any more than I endorse the atrocities of the dagger-wielding Sicarii during the Jewish War. But the Palestinians, like the Jews of Roman Judea, are a people under occupation. There is no debate on the streets of Jerusalem about who has the power. I have witnessed a Daewoo bulldozer flatten the home of a Palestinian family who simply lacked a building permit—a permit Jerusalem’s bureaucracy makes it all but impossible for Palestinians to acquire. I have watched armed Israelis compelling middle-aged Palestinian men to drop their pants on a public street to show they wore no explosives. I have seen border police climb out of jeeps to fire live rounds at young children whose only arsenal was the rubble at their feet. I have walked the “sterilized” streets of old Hebron where Palestinians can no longer go and listened to a former Israeli soldier describe how he used to torment civilians there. I have stayed in homes whose rooftop tanks must be refilled by hand when the Israeli authorities cut off electricity and ration water to insure that settlers on nearby hilltops can water their lawns and fill their swimming pools. I have comforted a Palestinian forbidden to enter Jerusalem to visit his hospitalized daughter. I have smelled teargas, felt percussion grenades and looked on as soldiers battered non-violent protesters whose crime was their stubborn presence on Israeli-confiscated Palestinian farmland. I have walked the course of the Wall that knifes through Jerusalem, separating kin from kin, worker from job, farmer from olive grove and people from sunset. And I have read the rage splashed across the Wall’s cold concrete canvas. My favorite graffiti is a hastily sprayed message in green paint: Jesus wept for Jerusalem – we weep for Palestine.

Is anyone else struck by similarities between the two occupations? Is this a useful thought experiment or is it simply stating the obvious?

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Blogger of the month!

I'm honored (and a tad embarrassed) to have been selected by Jim West and Brandon Wason of Biblioblogs as May's blogger of the month! The full (penetrating, incisive, ground-breaking) interview is available here.

Monday, April 16, 2007

You might be a Christian Zionist

With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, here's my attempt at a description of the modern movement, influential in many conservative evangelical circles, known as Christian Zionism.

You might be a Christian Zionist . . .
  1. If you think the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 and its expansion in 1967 (West Bank, Gaza, Golan and East Jerusalem) are part of God’s prophetic plan for the End Times and added proof of Scripture’s accuracy.
  2. If you support the modern state of Israel largely for theological reasons.
  3. If you believe America has been blessed by God because of its support for the modern state of Israel.
  4. If you enthusiastically support the Israeli policy of building settlements throughout the West Bank and Gaza as their way of laying claim to more of their entitlement.
  5. If you refer to the West Bank with the Biblical names “Judea and Samaria” rather than with phrases like “Occupied Territories.”
  6. If you oppose the founding of a Palestinian state within the borders of Israel and think the U.S. and U.N. should not pressure Israel to trade "land for peace."
  7. If you rejoice in the 6,000 or so Messianic Jewish Christians in Israel but give little or no thought to the 200,000 or so Palestinian Christians in Israel and the West Bank.
  8. If you believe the Last Days will witness the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple and the resumption of animal sacrifice.
  9. If you believe that one day Israel’s territory will extend, far beyond their present borders, reaching from the Nile to the Euphrates.
  10. If you believe that trouble in the Middle East between Jews and Arabs is inevitable, and that regional conflict must continue until the return of Christ.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

An emergency burial in a temporary location?

James Tabor is persuaded that the burial of Jesus conducted by Joseph of Arimathea was “temporary”—an “emergency” situation that called for unusual measures. Several comments from his April 1, 2007 post are representative (with bold face and italics added):
[Mark] notes that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joses . . . observed this emergency burial

The gospel of John [19:41-42] . . . makes it quite clear that this tomb was a temporary one, chosen in an emergency situation, that just happened to be nearby.

The tomb was chosen because it was close and the Passover Sabbath began at sundown. Things were in a rush and there simply was no time to even decide what to do with Jesus’ body as far an honorable and more permanent burial.

It should not surprise us that the tomb might turn up empty, given that this site near the place of execution was never intended as a permanent place for Jesus’ corpse in the first place, but was used in an emergency fashion until other arrangements could be made.
Likewise in The Jesus Dynasty, in a chapter titled “Dead but Twice Buried,” Tabor says:
given the hasty and temporary nature of Jesus’ burial we should expect that the tomb would be empty. It was never intended that Jesus be left in that tomb (234, underlining added; cf. 224, 228, 230).
From an “emergency” burial we may draw several inferences:
  1. The original tomb would have been found empty (Jesus Dynasty, 230).
  2. Jesus’ body would have been re-buried elsewhere.
In other words if Jesus’ (first) tomb was indeed found empty as the N.T. claims, this was because Jesus’ body was moved—by Joseph of Arimathea and others at day’s end on Saturday—to another tomb for permanent interment. The Talpiot tomb is simply our latest and best guess as to the whereabouts of this secondary location.

Is there evidence that Jesus’ burial was an “emergency” that called for a “temporary” (i.e., one-day) arrangement? Matthew’s Gospel offers no hint of time pressure; the key texts are in Mark, Luke and John (here given in the NRSV).
Mark 15:42-47
42. When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, 43. Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council . . .went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44. Then Pilate . . . 45. . . granted the body to Joseph. 46. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock.

Luke 23:50-56
50. Now . . . Joseph . . . 52. went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. 54. It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. 55. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

John 19:38-42
38. After these things, Joseph of Arimathea . . . asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 39. Nicodemus . . . also came . . . 40. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
Mark, our earliest source, does not say Jesus’ burial was hurried. Efficient maybe, but not hurried. We can’t assume, for example, that they deposited the body unwashed simply because Mark is silent on the point. What Mark does say is that evening had “already” (ede) come [omitted by the NRSV] and that Joseph’s move to secure the body happened “since” or “because” (epei) it was the “pre-Sabbath” (15:42). So Mark ties the lateness of the hour not so much to the burial as to Joseph’s bold request for the body perhaps because, as Raymond Brown (The Death of the Messiah 2.1212) suggests, the Romans would have been more likely to grant such requests prior to the Sabbath. Evidently there was time enough to buy linen and wrap the body but not enough to complete the anointing, which task the women returned to perform on Sunday morning (Mk 16:1-2).

The women’s return visit on Sunday morning suggests (to me) several things:
  1. They assumed Jesus’ body would still be there.
  2. They were not expecting a resurrection.
  3. They believed that other bodies would eventually be placed alongside Jesus’ body in that tomb, hence the courtesy/necessity of spices and ointment.
For Tabor’s theory to work it seems we must imagine the two Marys utterly oblivious to the temporary nature of Jesus’ burial, to the necessity of relocating the body and to the details of the corpse transfer. I find this aspect of Tabor’s proposal somewhat implausible. Moreover, if the plan was to transfer Jesus’ body, why not wait a few months until the bones could be collected in an ossuary?

Luke adds a time reference—the burial happened just prior to Sabbath—but little else. John adds the detail that the tomb was in a nearby “garden” and seems to imply that the location was chosen in part because it was close at hand. Unlike the NRSV translation cited above, the Greek of v.42 includes two distinct indicators of cause: “on account of (dia) the Jew’s Day of Preparation, because (hoti) the tomb was near.”

Evidence such as this prompts Tabor to conclude that Jesus’ body was never meant to stay where it initially lay. It helps, I suppose, that Tabor rejects Matthew’s claim (27:60) that Joseph of Arimathea owned the tomb:
This is clearly not history but Matthew’s theological addition to show a fulfillment of prophecy, namely, Isaiah 53:9, where the suffering servant is buried in the tomb of a rich man.
Is it reasonable for Tabor to move from the Gospels' hasty burial to an emergency burial in a temporary tomb? Does this go beyond the evidence? Does the shift answer more questions than it raises? For me, Tabor's proposal is not without its own problems:
  1. Would Joseph of Arimathea really have moved Jesus’ body without alerting family and friends, including the two Marys (Mk 15:47; 16:1)?
  2. Weren’t all Jewish burials relatively hurried? Wouldn’t Jews well practiced in same-day burials usually be able to avoid the inconvenience of reburial?
  3. Do we have any other ancient accounts of reburial prior to decomposition?
  4. How tolerant were the Romans of Jewish scruples on this point? Did the Romans regularly prevent Jews from burying victims of crucifixion? Josephus (War 4.317) confirms that the biblical call for same-day burial (Dt 21:22-23) was taken to apply to crucifixion victims. Was it not until the madness of the Jewish revolt (War 4.380-83; 5.33) that Rome prevented Jews from burying their loved ones?

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Thanksgiving from a prison camp

Gregory Petrov died in 1942 in a Soviet prison camp. About his life I know very little except that he composed, shortly before his death, a remarkable hymn. On Good Friday my wife and I attended All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal where Petrov's Akathist was performed by a robust, robed male chorus.

Over the years, my low-church Good Fridays have tended to be introspective and somber. More about Jesus' pain and grief than about God's grace. More about darkness than light. Perhaps that's why Petrov's litany of praises was so breathtaking to me. The cross, draped in black, and the crown of thorns gave silent testimony to the horrors of Roman crucifixion. But we were not summoned to writhe in pain, to reenact an execution. We were called, rather, to gratitude.

Here's a sampling:
Glory to Thee for calling me into being
Glory to Thee, showing me the beauty of the universe
Glory to Thee, spreading out before me heaven and earth
Like the pages in a book of eternal wisdom
Glory to Thee for Thine eternity in this fleeting world
Glory to Thee for Thy mercies, seen and unseen
Glory to Thee through every sigh of my sorrow
Glory to Thee for every step of my life's journey
For every moment of glory
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age
And another:
O Lord, how lovely it is to be Thy guest. Breeze full of scents; mountains reaching to the skies; waters like boundless mirrors, reflecting the sun's golden rays and the scudding clouds. All nature murmurs mysteriously, breathing the depth of tenderness. Birds and beasts of the forest bear the imprint of Thy love. Blessed art thou, mother earth, in thy fleeting loveliness, which wakens our yearning for happiness that will last for ever, in the land where, amid beauty that grows not old, the cry rings out: Alleluia!
For all 23 sparkling, scented stanzas, go here.

Do we get to say stuff like this on Good Friday? Aren't our hearts supposed to grow dim like the sky over Golgotha? Aren't we supposed to identify with Christ in his abandonment? Or can we remind each other, even on Friday, of the glorious goodness and tender mercies of God? I hope so. God knows there's enough pain and loneliness out there. Soviet prisons are not the only places this hymn needs to be heard.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Good Friday at the Holy Sepulcher

A dear friend of mine recently moved to Jerusalem where he now serves as priest and professor. In his latest e-mail, describing Good Friday in the Holy City, he looks for signs of hope in a conflicted and chaotic place:
Last night at the Holy Sepulcher was a zoo, but a very international and cross-cultural one. The Latins were from every nation. I chatted with a number of the Franciscans (from Poland, Latin America, Ireland, and Italy), lots of the French, the German Benedictines, and even met an Englishman doing research at the Kenyon. Since the Orthodox are celebrating their Easter at the same time we are, the place was unusually crowded and chaotic (which is saying something for the Holy Sepulcher!) Holidays can be frenetic and depressing, but this Triduum has been joyful and prayerful. Thank God. . .

I must admit I have very little hope for the political situation here. Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians have governments that are capable of making the pragmatic and honest decisions necessary for peace. . . For mental hygiene, I pray for peace and avoid engaging any passion in the question.
I agree: it is hard to imagine a just and peaceful end to the grinding Israel-Palestine conflict. And hard to imagine the church--so divided and territorial (for which the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the perfect metaphor)--nudging fearful Jews and Muslims toward peace. That would be like a man with a log in his eye pointing out the log in someone else's.

Not that Jesus lacks agents of reconciliation in the Middle East. Archbishop Elias Chacour wages peace through education in Ibillin, Galilee. From the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem, His Beatitude Michel Sabbah challenges Palestinians and Israelis alike to pursue justice. Salim Munayer gently guides Jewish and Arab Christians beyond prejudice, suspicion and sterotype. But lights like these flash against a dark sky.

Dare we hope for a day when Christian unity would be so evident, when Christian dialogue would be so respectful, when Christians convictions would be so clear--across traditions, in Jerusalem--that the world would hasten to invite Christian leaders to broker a lasting peace between warring Middle East factions?

Dare we not?

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Commentary Recommendations: Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians

My commentary suggestions for several of Paul's epistles appeared in the February, 2007 issue of Catalyst On-line, a web journal for United Methodist Seminarians.


Call me old-fashioned but I still think C. E. B. Cranfield’s 2-volume ICC commentary on Romans (T. & T. Clark, 1975) sets the bar, not because Cranfield always gets it right but because of his sheer mastery of the exegetical craft. For every word or phrase, Cranfield wends through the interpretive maze, lists options, weighs support and defends his own view, combining the technical precision of a master craftsman with the relentless consistency of a trial lawyer. Granted, important questions (e.g., from E. P. Sanders) and new disciplines (e.g., social-scientific and literary criticisms) have emerged in the three decades since this set appeared, such that fresh appraisals are called for, but Cranfield’s work remains foundational. Even though it assumes familiarity with the original languages (only Hebrew is transliterated), one can often “read around” the Greek and still follow the argument.

Taking up Cranfield’s mantle and continuing Durham’s rich tradition of Romans scholarship, James Dunn’s WBC commentary (2 volumes; Word, 1988) built carefully on Sanders’ insights to argue that Paul’s critique of Judaism concerns not legalism but ethnic nationalism or cultural imperialism. A third milestone in Romans scholarship is Douglas Moo’s NICNT volume (Eerdmans, 1996), a 1000-page model of clarity and judicious scholarship that, while affirming certain elements of the “new perspective,” defends a modified Lutheran approach to Paul. Honorable mention goes to Thomas Schreiner’s BECNT volume (Baker, 1998) for its accessibility, comprehensiveness and thoughtful interaction with the secondary literature, and to Charles Talbert’s Smyth and Helwys tome (2002) for its aesthetic appeal and CD-ROM, and for its interest in the rhetoric of Paul’s argument and the social location of the letter.

1 Corinthians

The 1987 publication of Gordon Fee’s NICNT volume was another commentary milestone. Fee’s honed skills as text critic and exegete serve, but never overwhelm, his larger goal of illuminating Paul’s argument and celebrating the abiding relevance of Paul’s theology. Pastoral reflections at the end of each thought unit remain relevant 20 years after they went to press.

Subsequent studies of 1 Corinthians, including Richard Hays’ contribution to the Interpretation series (Westminster/John Knox, 1997), stand on Fee’s shoulders. Hays’ volume is an elegant blend of exegesis, imagination and Biblical theology. In keeping with the pastoral tone of the series, Hays invites preachers to watch and learn as Paul responds to urgent pastoral problems, reshapes pagan imaginations, forms Christian community and reasserts the centrality of the cross. Hays’ reading of 1 Corinthians highlights the Scriptural foundations of Paul’s theology and the ecclesiological, communal nature of his ethics: the desperate need for unity, love and selflessness within the Corinthian community cannot be separated from the community’s New Covenant identity as the people of God. This will preach.

David Garland’s volume in the BECNT series (Baker, 2003) is up to date, heavily indexed with a stellar bibliography. If it does not exhaust every last technical question—for that consult Anthony Thiselton’s 1446-page NIGTC volume (Eerdmans, 2000), it is eminently readable and fair-minded, and moves seamlessly between high-level exegetical debates and practical, pastoral concerns. Greek words are both transliterated and translated so no one is excluded from the conversation.

2 Corinthians

Among commentaries on 2nd Corinthians, Victor Furnish’s Anchor Bible volume (Doubleday, 1984) remains seminal. The puzzle of Paul’s complex historical relationship to the Corinthians, along with the striking shifts in the letter’s tone prompt Furnish to argue that the canonical epistle originally existed as two separate letters, with 1-9 earlier than 10-13. (This partition theory is tame compared to, e.g., W. Schmithals’.) Whether or not one finds such theories persuasive, the strength of Furnish’s exegetical insights remains. A nice feature of this series is how it separates technical “notes” from general and detailed “comments.”

Also aging well is Ralph Martin’s Word commentary (Word, 1986). Martin, who affirms a temporal gap between the composition of 1-9 and 10-13, attends carefully to Paul’s use of scripture, to early Jewish hermeneutics and to the urgent messianic eschatology that drives Paul’s argument. As with all Word commentaries, each unit includes an extensive bibliography.

Murray Harris’ NIGTC opus (Eerdmans, 2005) is to 2 Corinthians what Cranfield’s is to Romans. Harris has inhabited this epistle for over 30 years (cf. Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 10 [Zondervan, 1976]) and it shows: no grammatical detail or exegetical debate escapes his attention. Analysis is crystal clear and conclusions are well-reasoned, but readers will need to read closely and pull their weight. The introduction includes all the usual issues plus a summary of the letter’s theology. Perhaps the only omission concerns recent archaeological finds at Corinth. One might hope that the author’s “expanded paraphrase,” creatively inscribing the conclusions of his exegesis, will catch on.

Honorable mention goes to Scott J. Hafemann’s NIVAC volume (Zondervan, 2000), a sound and practical guide to the letter by another long-term scholar of this epistle.


Several recent commentaries on Galatians have shifted the spotlight away from the letter’s rhetorical-epistolary framework—central to Hans Dieter Betz’s seminal work (Hermeneia, 1979; cf. Richard Longenecker’s [Word, 1990] and B. Witherington [T. & T. Clark, 1998])—to its homiletical and theological agenda. In my view, this is good news, and not just for preachers.

J. Louis Martyn’s acclaimed Anchor Bible commentary (Doubleday, 1997) is theologically penetrating, artful and ground-breaking. With 4:3-5 as the letter’s center, Martyn finds the polarity with which Paul struggles to be, not Christianity versus Judaism, but “God’s apocalyptic act in Christ versus religion” (37). Even if Martyn poses too stark a contrast between Paul’s Jewish heritage and his Christian convictions, every page demonstrates Martyn’s passion to think Paul’s thoughts after him, and to dismantle the contemporary wall between theology and exegesis.

Richard B. Hays’ Galatians (New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. IX; Abingdon, 2000), though a modest 165 pages, takes up all the pressing issues of the letter with elegance and passion. As with Martyn, Hays takes Paul’s principal beef to be with those who require Gentile followers of Jesus to submit to circumcision and keep the Law of Moses. Martyn calls Paul’s opponents “the Teachers;” Hays, following Dunn, calls them “Missionaries.” Both terms avoid the confusion and pejorative tone of older terms (e.g., “Judaizers,” “agitators”).

Hays is well known for his defense of the “subjective genitive” in the pistis Christou wars. Thus, Hays would say (with Martyn) that we are justified (or “rectified”) through “the faithfulness of Jesus,” as demonstrated in his death (cf. Gal 2:16, 20; 3:22). Although this volume includes practical, often moving “Reflections” at the end of each unit, rich resources for preachers and teachers may be found on every page.


My three choices for Ephesians all hail from the nineties. Andrew T. Lincoln (WBC; Word, 1990) is a faithful guide to the argument of the letter, its predominantly “realized” eschatology and its “universal” ecclesiology. Though Lincoln defends pseudonymous authorship—one of Paul’s students expanded and adapted Colossians, offering us “an updating of Paul’s Gospel” (lviii)—he is eager to affirm the authority of the letter within the NT canon.

Ernest Best’s 1998 contribution to T. & T. Clark’s ICC series replaces the century-old volume on Ephesians and Colossians by T. K. Abbott. Best defends at length the pseudonymous authorship of Ephesians but, unlike Lincoln, finds Ephesians and Colossians to be independent compositions from the same Pauline school. Complementing the detailed, often technical but always clear, running commentary are six “detached notes”: The Heavenlies; In Christ; The Powers; The Body of Christ; Israel, and the Church; The Haustafel; and two essays: The Church; Moral Teaching.

Peter T. O’Brien begins his excellent Ephesians volume in the Pillar series (Eerdmans, 1999) with a lengthy defense of Pauline authorship. Intended for pastors and teachers, O’Brien’s commentary is the easiest of the three to use. It is scholarly but not scholastic (Greek is confined to the notes) and moves easily from exegesis to biblical theology and contemporary relevance. The epistle’s central message, we learn, is “cosmic reconciliation and unity in Christ” (58).

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Resurrecting Mary Magdalene and excavating Migdal

In his latest contribution to the Talpiot tomb debate, James Tabor commends to us Jane Schaberg's 2002 monograph, The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament. I agree: Schaberg's work is a delightful read. She is a wordsmith whose passion and imagination serve, rather than obscure, her scholarship. Stitching traditions to texts to physical remains to meditations, she advances a savvy feminist agenda, a "Magdalene Christianity" meant to challenge the prevailing "Petrine Christianity" (p.19).

Toward that end Schaberg's second chapter is a poignant lament over Migdal, home to the Magdalene. In sharp contrast to the attention (and money) lavished on Capernaum, Migdal, a few miles down Galilee's shore, suffers from severe neglect. Pilgrims descend from their tour buses at Capernaum only to ascend into a modern "(magnificent? tasteless? expensive)" (p.59) church that memorializes and protects what may well be the ancient house of St. Peter. By contrast, the excavations at Migdal lie overgrown and abandoned (ostensibly due to flooding), the desolation of the site summoning Schaberg to the "feminist task" (p.48) of reclamation and recovery. The difference between the opulent Franciscan church at Capernaum and the barbed wire of Migdal illustrates, for Schaberg, "the sexual politics of archaeology" (p.60).

I'm inclined to agree. Even if archaeologists have shied away from Migdal because of its high water table, and even if New Testament ties to the site are limited to references to Mary Magdalene's provenance (Mk 15:40, 47; 16:1; Matt 27:56, 61; 28:1; Lk 8:2; 24:10; Jn 19:25; 20:1, 11-18) and perhaps to Jesus' port of call after feeding the crowds (Dalmanutha/Magadan in Mk 8:10; Mt 15:39), I'm betting the ruins would have received much more attention had Migdal been, say, home to one of Jesus' male disciples.

Tabor's interest in the home of Mary Magdalene is principally driven, it seems, by the Talpiot tomb ossuary bearing the name Mariamenou Mara. Is there anything about ancient Migdal that might encourage us to link this Greek inscription to Mary of Migdal? Tabor's summary of Schaberg's chapter (pp.47-64) on Migdal hints that there might well be.
Schaberg’s treatment surveys the material/archaeological evidence on the city of Migdal, home of Mary Magdalene. That portion of the book alone recast things for me as much as beginning to factor in Jesus’ hometown Nazareth being just outside Sepphoris, the urban capital of the Galilee. Migdal, according to our sources, had a large aqueduct system, a theatre, hippodrome, and a market. Josephus describes it in some detail and made the city his headquarters when he became commander of the Galilean revolt. It was culturally and commercially diverse, opulent, and “wild.” Meyers and Strange concluded that the city was more “Romanized” than Capernaum or Chorazin, and thus closer to Sepphoris, Tiberius, and Beth Shean as a Roman polis.
This summary of Schaberg is close enough to be considered fair, though the phrase "Roman polis" seems to be Tabor's (somewhat loaded) paraphrase of J. F. Strange's suggestion (cited by Schaberg, p.57) that places like Migdal show us "the imprint of the Roman idea of the city" (p.57). And terms like "opulent" and "wild" are apt only as descriptions of Migdal's reputation in the Talmud and Midrashim (p.55), which later rabbinic reputation likely derives (according to Schaberg) from evolving Christian legends about Mary Magdalene rather than from historical knowledge about the town.

In any case, the implication seems to be that Migdal's "Romanized" character may well explain the Greek on the Mariamene ossuary inscription. Recall Tabor's comments from a week ago:
We don’t know much about Mary Magdalene in our N. T. sources, but she does seem to be a woman of means and she is associated with several other women of standing (Luke 8: 1-3). The Mariamene ossuary is decorated and the inscription is in Greek, which surely fits this data, and Migdal, according to the record of Josephus, was a large, thriving, and culturally diverse “Romanized” city with theatre, hippodrome, and a large aqueduct system.
Was Migdal as "Roman" as, say, nearby Tiberias? Should we perhaps even expect that the ossuary of someone from such a town would be inscribed in Greek? Does the size and significance of the town lend credence to the translation of Mara as master or honorable lady?

Scholars these days (Tabor included) know better than to dichotomize sharply between Hellenism and Judaism. All 1st century "Judaisms" were Hellenized to some degree. Nevertheless, the emerging consensus is that pre-70 Galilee was much less Hellenized than previously thought. Mark Chancey's recent monographs (The Myth of a Gentile Galilee and
Greco-Roman Culture and the Galilee of Jesus), for example, show how most evidence for Roman culture in Galilee dates to the time of Hadrian. Even the use of Greek seems to have been limited in earlier periods.

But if Roman culture and influence (including the use of Greek) were limited in the Galilee, and not evenly distributed, can we say anything specific about Migdal? Was it uncharacteristically cultured, cosmopolitan and Hellenized for pre-70 Galilee?
Ben Witherington's assessment of Mary Magdalene's hometown seems to differ sharply from Tabor's:
As for Migdal, it is simply false that it was a major cosmopolitan commercial center. It was a tiny Jewish fishing village---give me a break! No one who has been there and compare it to Bethsaida just up the road could ever come to that conclusion about Migdal. Their explanation is one based on ignorance apparently.
Unfortunately, the overgrown, unfinished state of affairs at Migdal makes it difficult for visitors to assess just how "major" or how "tiny" the town was; surely there was far more there than now meets the eye. Witherington seems to underestimate the economic heft of the place, perhaps to offset overstatements in the Jesus Tomb documentary.

Dennis Duling
describes the first century town as a noteworthy "boat building and fish processing center." Chancey's analysis, however, highlights the city's "adherence to Jewish tradition" and its apparently enthusiastic support of Josephus' mobilization against Rome during the first revolt (Myth, 99). Although Josephus mentions a theater and a large hippodrome in Migdal (a.k.a. Taricheae; cf. War 2.598-599), the lack of corroborating archaeological evidence has led some (including Schaberg) to declare Josephus' description and population estimates exaggerated. For her part, Schaberg bemoans the lack of a full-scale scholarly treatment of the site but she does find enough evidence to suggest that Migdal was a place of "traffic, commerce, and the flow of ideas and information" (57, citing J. F. Strange). Fair enough. But when she says that Migdal was "a place where Jews and non-Jews met" (idem), she seems to move beyond the evidence she herself has so carefully mustered. The idea that Migdal's Jews in the early 1st century would have spoken and written principally in Greek rather than Aramaic or Hebrew moves us even further beyond that evidence.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Robert Gundry on the physicality of Jesus' resurrection in earliest Christian proclamation

In the following guest post, Robert H. Gundry, Scholar-in-residence & professor of New Testament & Greek at Westmont College, enters the Jesus tomb debate by examining James Tabor's claim that the earliest Christians did not proclaim a physical resurrection.

Robert Gundry

There’s an element in the current discussion of Jesus’ family tomb, so-called, that needs more scrutiny, it seems to me. I have in mind the agreement or disagreement between the earliest oral and literary traditions of what happened to Jesus’ corpse, on the one hand, and the interpretation of an ossuary found at Talpiot as having contained the secondarily buried bones of Jesus of Nazareth, on the other hand. If I understand Professor James Tabor correctly, he believes:
  1. that the said ossuary probably did contain Jesus’ bones;
  2. that Jesus’ brother James revived and carried forward a messianic movement started by John the Baptist and taken over by Jesus;
  3. that because of the removal of Jesus’ corpse from the tomb into which Joseph of Arimathea had put it, and because of a secondary burial of Jesus’ bones about a year later, James and others in the revived messianic movement knew that Jesus hadn’t physically risen from the dead, nor did they proclaim that he had;
  4. that because of visions Paul claimed for himself, he proclaimed that Jesus had risen from the dead;
  5. that Paul presented Jesus’ resurrection (and ours to come) as spiritual rather than physical; and
  6. that in the Pauline offshoot from the messianic movement then headed by James, the notion of a spiritual resurrection morphed into legendary stories of a physical resurrection, such as we have in the canonical Gospels (The Jesus Dynasty [New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006]; idem,
With such an understanding, there’s no disagreement between the earliest literary version of Jesus’ resurrection—that is, Paul’s presentation of it as spiritual rather than physical—and an ossuary’s having contained the bones of Jesus.

It would be problematic, though, if the earliest oral and literary versions of Jesus’ resurrection presented it as physical. For the earlier the notion of a physical resurrection of Jesus, the greater the tension between that notion and the knowledge of Jesus’ original followers that his bones lay in an ossuary of nearby, known location, especially if those who held the notion of a physical resurrection and those who had contrary knowledge of Jesus’ ossuary-interred bones were in conversation with each other. On so fundamental a point we should expect some literary evidence of disagreement among them. And the tension becomes even more severe if the original followers of Jesus knew about his bones and some of these followers had themselves interred those bones yet proclaimed him as physically resurrected.

Professor Tabor affirms correctly that Paul and Jesus’ original followers were in conversation with each other: “There is little doubt that the apostle Paul was accepted into the inner circles of Jesus’ original followers,” and they “publicly endorsed his missionary preaching to the Gentile Roman world (Galatians 2:9). It was what he preached and taught that began to create problems” (The Jesus Dynasty, 262). But Tabor immediately goes on to discuss Paul’s view of “a heavenly Christ,” including a nonphysically resurrected one, as though that view of him created problems for Jesus’ original followers. Not so! As Paul clearly points out in Galatians 2, the problems had to do with issues of circumcision, law-keeping in general, and table fellowship. There’s nothing about a problem of disagreement over whether Jesus was physically resurrected.

To support a Pauline presentation of a nonphysically resurrected Jesus, though, Professor Tabor states that Paul “claimed to hear a disembodied ‘voice’ that he identified as ‘words’ of Jesus” (The Jesus Dynasty, 262). But the texts Tabor cites in note 4 on page 262—that is, 2 Corinthians 12:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:15; 1 Corinthians 11:23—say nothing about a disembodied voice. (Nor, for that matter, does the word voice appear in those texts despite Tabor’s putting quotation marks around it.)

Professor Tabor’s view that Paul presented a nonphysically resurrected Jesus rests above all, however, on Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians 15:44, 46, 50, about which Tabor states, “Paul, our earliest witness to the resurrection, speaks of a ‘physical body’ and a ‘spiritual body,’ and though it is a body, he clearly presents both the resurrection of Jesus and the future resurrection of the dead at the end of the age, as putting off the flesh like a garment and being transformed into a higher spirit life.” Likewise, Tabor writes that according to Paul, at the second coming the Christian dead will be resurrected “in gloriously transformed spiritual bodies” (The Jesus Dynasty, 264), that Christians still living at the time “will likewise be instantaneously changed from flesh to spirit” (ibid.), and that “Paul seems to be willing to use the term ‘resurrection’ to refer to something akin to an apparition or vision. And when he does mention Jesus’ body he says it was a ‘spiritual’ body. But a ‘spiritual body' and an ‘embodied spirit’ could be seen as very much the same phenomenon” (ibid., 232). (Actually, Paul talks about a spiritual body only in connection with Christians’ resurrection, but the parallel with Jesus’ resurrection, which Tabor draws, is to be accepted.)

Has Professor Tabor understood Paul’s discussion of resurrection correctly? I think not. In the first place, Paul contrasts “a spiritual body” with “a soulish body,” not with a “physical body” (1 Cor 15:44, 46). But what do these expressions mean? Take first the adjective “spiritual.” When Paul describes some Christians in Corinth as “spiritual” rather than “fleshly” or “carnal,” he doesn’t mean that some Christians in Corinth are floating around its streets in a ghostly form as opposed to others who are pounding the pavement with their feet. No, he’s describing some Christians as taught, filled, and led by the Holy Spirit, whose temple is their present physical bodies, as opposed to others dominated by their sinful proclivities despite the indwelling Spirit (1 Cor 2:10–16; 3:1; 6:19; 14:37; Gal 6:1). When Paul speaks of “spiritual gifts,” he means gifts given by the Holy Spirit (Rom 1:11; 1 Cor 12:1; 14:1). The manna, the water-supplying rock, and the Mosaic law—all in the Old Testament—are “spiritual” in that the Holy Spirit gave them to the Israelites (Rom 7:14; 1 Cor 10:3–4). And the gospel is “spiritual” as given by the Holy Spirit (Rom 15:27; 1 Cor 9:11). So we should capitalize the adjective Spiritual and dismiss the notion that it indicates nonphysicality. In Paul’s view, that is to say, the resurrected body is Spiritual not in the sense of nonphysicality (he even switches back and forth between “body” and “flesh” in 1 Cor 15:35–41) but in the sense of its having been raised by God’s Spirit, which is none other than Christ’s Spirit, rather than procreated, as in the case of our present bodies, animated as they are by the soul—hence the contrast with “soulish bodies.” But let Paul speak for himself to the effect that in resurrection a Spiritual body is a body raised by the Holy Spirit: “The last Adam [Christ] became a life-making Spirit” (1 Cor 15:45); “But if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will make alive also your mortal bodies through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Rom 8:11).

Ah, but what about 1 Corinthians15:50, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”? Professor Tabor appeals also to this text for a nonphysical understanding of resurrection on Paul’s part (The Jesus Dynasty, 264). Well, the immediately following statement reads, “Nor does perishability inherit imperishability.” These two statements parallel each other, so that the phrase “flesh and blood” corresponds to “perishability.” Together, the terms refer to the present body in respect to the perishability of its flesh and blood, not in respect to the physicality of its flesh and blood. For Paul proceeds to say that it is “this perishable body” that will put on imperishability and “this mortal body” that will put on immortality (1 Cor 15:51–55, especially verse 53). And since for Paul the resurrection of Christians will follow the pattern of Christ’s resurrection, as Tabor recognizes, Paul must have thought that when Christ was raised, it was the perishable, mortal body of his earthly lifetime that put on imperishability and immortality, not that he was raised and exalted to heaven in some nonphysical form.

According to 1 Corinthians 15:1–7 Paul “received” information about Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and appearances as resurrected to Cephas (Peter) and others, including James. On the basis of Galatians 1:10–23 Professor Tabor interprets this reception as a direct revelation from heaven rather than as the passing on of tradition by one or more earlier followers of Jesus. But in Galatians Paul is talking about the gospel he preached before going to Jerusalem and conversing with Cephas three years after that direct revelation, whereas in 1 Corinthians he’s talking about the sort of information he’d get from one or more earlier believers. So contrary to Tabor’s earlier cited identification of Paul as “our earliest witness to the resurrection,” our earliest witnesses to it are the ones or one (probably Cephas) who passed this information on to Paul. Or, rather, our earliest witnesses are those who claimed to have seen Jesus as resurrected before Paul did, as admitted by Paul in his phrases, “And last of all . . . also to me” (1 Cor 15:8). Therefore we have to investigate not only Paul’s understanding of Jesus’ resurrection, whether it was physical or nonphysical, but also what was the understanding of it by the earlier witnesses and traditioner(s). “Cephas,” the Aramaic form of “Peter,” and the two instances of “according to the Scriptures” in 1 Corinthians 15:3–7 favor that the tradition stemmed from Jesus’ original followers, Jews still closely tied to their ancestral faith, Judaism. Now Tabor correctly writes, “In Judaism to claim that someone has been ‘raised from the dead’ is not the same as to claim that one has died and exists as a spirit or soul in the heavenly world. What the gospels [here we might substitute the witnesses and traditioners behind 1 Cor 15:3–7] claim about Jesus is that the tomb [in which he ‘was buried,’ according to the pre-Pauline tradition] was empty, and that his dead body was revived to life [‘raised,’ according to that same tradition]—wounds and all. He was not a phantom or a ghost . . .” (The Jesus Dynasty, 232). So it looks as though those witnesses and traditioners, given their Judaistic upbringing, would have understood Jesus’ resurrection as physical just as Paul did and just as we should expect in that by definition “resurrection” means the “standing up” of a formerly a supine corpse.

We’re left with this question: If Jesus’ bones were known to be lying in an ossuary near Jerusalem, how is it that the earliest literary tradition in 1 Corinthian 15:1–7, the even earlier oral tradition stemming from Jesus’ original disciples, and Paul’s properly exegeted understanding—how is it that all of them presented Jesus’ resurrection as physical? This question seems to me hard to answer.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Jesus' tomb: impossible, unlikely, possible or probable?

James Tabor's latest post, Clearing the air: Rational Thinking on the Talpiot Tomb, distinguishes helpfully between Jacobovici and Cameron's The Lost Tomb of Jesus (with all its strengths and flaws) and the underlying question: whether or not the Jesus-son-of-Joseph of the Talpiot tomb was Jesus-of-Nazareth. Ultimately it is the latter question, not the media event, that matters. Tabor can imagine four possible positions among responsible academics:
  1. There is good evidence that this Jesus son of Joseph cannot be Jesus of Nazareth
  2. The identification is inconclusive, or even unlikely; there is not enough evidence to draw a solid conclusion.
  3. Such an identification is possible, even likely, though not conclusively proven.
  4. There is evidence that such an identification is probable or even highly probable.
Four thoughts.

First, some will complain that Tabor unfairly excludes the view that "this could not be the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth since he ascended bodily to heaven." But since historians can only trade in probabilities and since the bodily ascension of Jesus surely qualifies as an extremely improbable historical event, I'm not sure Tabor's exclusion can be faulted, given the context of an academic debate. Moreover, he seems to be excluding only the view that says, up front and without concern for possible physical evidence, that historical and archaeological data are irrelvant to questions about the historical Jesus.

Second, Tabor suggests that "the only scholar who has argued the 1st option in print is Jodi Magness." A key phrase here is "in print," the meaning of which is becoming increasingly opaque in our digital information age. Evidently Tabor would include articles published in academic e-journals and posted on e-bulletin boards like SBL's Forum,where Jodi Magness' piece appears. But what are we to make of the negative verdicts handed down by generally respected academics who, only since the Jacobovic documentary and thus not yet "in print," have posted on websites and blogs, or spoken out on television, radio and in the press? I'm thinking of Richard Bauckham, Eric Meyers, Craig Evans, Ben Witherington, Stephen Pfann, Jonathan Reed, Joe Zias, Byron McCane, Darrell Bock, Randy Ingermanson, Chris Heard and others, all of whom reject the link between the Jesus tomb and Jesus of Nazareth. Perhaps I need to re-read their statements more closely, but my sense is (a) that many statements are effectively "in print" and (b) that these statements lean much more toward option one than Tabor implies.
UPDATE: Thanks to James Tabor who clarifies his meaning in the comments section below. By "in print," he had in mind what he calls "solid and sustained academic treatments."
Third, the wording of option two may create confusion. Some of those who adopt it--Christopher Rollston, for example--may actually be much closer to position one than Tabor allows. Take Rollston as an example:
Based on the prosopographic evidence, it is simply not possible to make assumptions about the relationships of those buried therein, and it is certainly not tenable to suggest that the data are sufficient to posit that this is the family tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.
Tabor is technically correct--Rollston doesn't say the identification is impossible--but I wonder if Tabor's position two would be more accurate if it read as follows:
2. The identification is inconclusive, or even unlikely; there is not enough evidence to draw a solid conclusion and plenty to warrant profound skepticism.
Fourth, the phrase "even likely" in option three all but removes the distinction between three and four. How are we to distinguish betwen position three (the identification is "likely") and position four (the identification is "probable")? Perhaps the four views should simply be: essentially impossible, unlikely, possible and probable.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Israel, Palestine and the pitfalls of rhetoric

In order for international aid to flow once again to the Palestinian people, the four major international players—the E.U., U.N., U.S.A. and Russia—stipulated last year the following conditions:
“All members of the future Palestinian government must be committed to non-violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the roadmap.”
Having witnessed first hand various acts of violence directed, with Israeli sanction, against unarmed Palestinians (e.g., tear gas, “rubber” bullets, percussion grenades, clubs, house demolition), I have to ask: why are not both sides being held to standards of non-violence? I strongly oppose Palestinian suicide bombers and lament the tragic loss of Israeli lives. I also strongly oppose Israeli acts of collective punishment and the excessive, disproportionate use of force displayed by the Israeli Defense Forces. Argue if you like about which side started it or which side should stop first, but it’s hard to dispute which side is causing more loss of life and property.

My second question concerns the Quartet's demand that the Palestinian government “recognize” Israel. (Even the famous roadmap only required the Palestinian leadership to affirm Israel's "right to exist in peace and security," which amounted to their accepting the political status quo and rejecting violence.) A recent L.A.Times opinion piece by U.C.L.A. professor Saree Makdisi has drawn intense fire (metaphorically speaking) for disputing the fairness of this demand:
[T]he formal diplomatic language of "recognition" is traditionally used by one state with respect to another state. It is literally meaningless for a non-state to "recognize" a state. Moreover, in diplomacy, such recognition is supposed to be mutual. In order to earn its own recognition, Israel would have to simultaneously recognize the state of Palestine.
She continues:
[W]hich Israel, precisely, are the Palestinians being asked to "recognize?" Israel has stubbornly refused to declare its own borders. So, territorially speaking, "Israel" is an open-ended concept. Are the Palestinians to recognize the Israel that ends at the lines proposed by the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan? Or the one that extends to the 1949 Armistice Line (the de facto border that resulted from the 1948 war)? Or does Israel include the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which it has occupied in violation of international law for 40 years — and which maps in its school textbooks show as part of "Israel"?
Provocative stuff. Persuasive to some, no doubt, but perverse to others. I wonder, though, if we can agree that Makdisi articulates nicely how it is that many, even most, Palestinians see things. This is their reality. To demand that Palestinians "recognize" Israel—to demand that they acknowledge her "right to exist"—is to require them to say (again quoting Makdisi)
that it was right for them to have been dispossessed of their homes, their property and their livelihoods so that a Jewish state could be created on their land.
Part of the problem is that acknowledging someone’s "right to exist" (the language of Condoleeza Rice, among others) seems so basic, so reasonable, so innocuous. From this, as John Whitbeck (Christian Science Monitor, Feb.2) explains, it follows that
if the "right to exist" is reasonable, then refusing to accept it must represent perversity, rather than Palestinians' deeply felt need to cling to their self-respect and dignity as full-fledged human beings.
To Palestinians, ordinary non-militant, struggling Palestinians, it is like demanding that they acknowledge that they deserve what has been done to them. I suppose some people think they do indeed deserve what the last 60 years have wrought, but can anyone seriously expect the Palestinians themselves to concur?

I pray for the day when Israelis and Palestinians finally live together in peace, security and dignity. To get there, however, the international community needs to respect the power, and avoid the pitfalls, of ill-chosen rhetoric.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Crunching the Jesus tomb numbers, once again

Add Jack Poirier to the list of those ready to challenge the "Jesus tomb" number crunchers. Poirier's piece, published at Jerusalem Perspective Online, takes its place along side Randy Ingermanson's and Jay Cost's as another (ostensibly independent) attempt to assess the statistical probability that the Talpiot tomb belonged to Jesus' family. Poirier seems to know what he's doing (though I'm no judge in such matters) and his essay is worth a read. A few soundbites:
Multiplying the odds of one being named “Jesus” by the odds of one being named “Joseph,” one finds that the odds of a given male patronymic being “Jesus son of Joseph” is about .38%. Since there are two patronymic ossuaries in the Talpiot tomb, the odds of one reading “Jesus son of Joseph” is about 0.75%.
. . . it is necessary to address the “after the fact” nature of many of the statistical studies made in connection with this tomb. That is, what obtains in this tomb’s sampling is sometimes being treated as the only combination of names that could foster the suspicion that this is the tomb of Jesus’ family, when in fact a number of other combinations of names could do so just as impressively. . . . the same arguments that have been made in connection with the appearance of “Yose” would then have been made in connection with “Judah,” “Simeon,” or “James.” A more meaningful approach would calculate the odds of finding one patronymic relation known to obtain within Jesus’ family, together with one other male family name and one known female family name, within a sampling of ossuary inscriptions featuring two patronymic male inscriptions, two non-patronymic male inscriptions, and two female inscriptions.

. . . we need to determine the odds of finding “Jesus son of Joseph,” “Mary,” and the name of any one of Jesus’ brothers. Now the odds of finding one of Jesus’ brothers’ names on one of the three remaining male ossuaries can be calculated [note] to yield a probability of 63.26%, or odds of one in 1.6. Multiplying that figure by the above-determined figures for finding “Jesus son of Joseph” and “Mary,” we arrive at a probability for the full package of 0.21% (that is, 63.26% x 0.75% x 44.10%), or, more precisely, of odds of one in 475.1. Considering that there are some 1,000 tombs similar to “the Tomb,” it should hardly be surprising that one should yield this cluster of names. On average (and holding the number of inscribed ossuaries to be typical), we might actually expect to find two or more.
Though some of Poirier's charges are not new, both his logic and his results are distinctive. He likens Jacobovici's argument to watching someone pick several wild cards after being dealt a hand of cards and then brag about his royal flush.

At the end of the day there are surely countless wrong ways to run the numbers (Jacobovici's evidently among them). Poirier's model, alongside several others, suggests there may be several right ways as well.

UPDATE (9:52 a.m.): Mark Goodacre's latest post is a useful catalog of contributions to the Talpiot tomb statistics debate.

Paul and Scripture: An on-line collaborative Bibliography

Some of us in the Paul and Scripture Seminar of the Society of Biblical Literature are developing an on-line wiki bibliography on Paul's use of Scripture. We're still working out the bugs but as of today the database includes 351 sources. Anyone can search it (using various criteria) but you need clearance to post entries. Those interested in helping to build the database should contact me by e-mail.

To poke around, click on Resources, then List. Feedback is most welcome.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

WWJB? (Where Would Jesus be Buried?)

Jay Cost of RealClearPolitics fame has weighed in on the "Jesus Tomb" debate on the side of the skeptics. His principal target is the argument from statistics and probability. It differs from Randy Ingermanson's argument in significant respects (I like Randy's better) but others will have to assess its merits. His case includes, however, some historical claims that I think are problematic. Like,
Few scholars - including those who think Jesus was not bodily resurrected - believe that he was buried at all.
Actually, almost all scholars think he was buried. A few (e.g., J. D. Crossan) suggest the Romans might have denied Jesus' body a proper burial, but most believe his body was buried either in a shallow trench grave or (more likely) in a tomb, as indicated by the Gospels.
Even if we assume that Jesus was buried, it is exceedingly unlikely that he would be buried in or around Jerusalem. . . . One would expect the Jesus family tomb, if it did exist, to be either in the north (the family's first century A.D. home), or in the south (the family's ancestral home). There is no reason to expect it to be in or near Jerusalem.
First, all four N.T. Gospels agree that Jesus was buried immediately just outside of Jerusalem. John (19:41) adds that the tomb was near the place of execution. The Gospels give no indication that Jesus' family and friends intended to move his body, certainly not to Galilee or down to Bethlehem. I can picture a regal procession bearing Herod the Great's body south to the Herodion (near Bethlehem), but surely his was the exception to the rule that people in Jesus' day were buried more or less where they died. (I'll happily stand corrected on this one.)

Second, the N. T. (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; Gal 1:19) seems to indicate that James, Jesus' brother, remained in Jerusalem after Jesus' death. It seems quite plausible that others in Jesus family would have settled there as well. The "Jesus tomb" folks like to point out that there is no ossuary for Joseph in the Talpiot tomb--only one for Jesus-son-of-Joseph. So, the theory goes, Joseph died earlier in Galilee and was buried there. Thereafter the clan moved south.
Everybody had an interest in finding his body. It would have been a prize "get" for early Christian opponents - who were of course centered in Jerusalem - to produce it. How did they miss it when it was so close by?
This may well be right (cf. Mt 27:64; 28:11-15). Charlesworth makes a similar point. But we need to keep in mind that the "Jesus tomb" hypothesis proceeds by challenging the reliability of the Gospels' testimony. That is, the Gospels preserve later traditions and pious embellishments rather than (or mixed with) authentic history. In the aftermath of Jesus' death, says Tabor, none of Jesus' followers was claiming that Jesus' physical body had risen. That all came later, after 70, when the whereabouts of the Jesus family tomb were unknown. So the important historical question is: how soon after the crucifixion were Jesus' followers publicly proclaiming his resurrection?
Jesus' was a lower-class family from Galilee. Where did they acquire the resources to purchase what the original investigators call a tomb for a middle-class family?
The claim that Jesus' family could not have owned the Talpiot tomb may well be correct, though two of James Tabor's claims (here or here) weigh against it: (a) that the tomb itself is rather plain and (b) that Jesus had friends and supporters whose means could have made up for his lack (cf. Luke 8:3; 23:50; John 11:38; ).

Jay Cost's statistical argument may ultimately be persuasive, but some of its historical pillars need shoring up.