InterVarsity Press, SBL, and Rumors of a Ban


IVP Academic:

Just today, InterVarsity Press claimed:

For 70 years, IVP has been committed to fostering dialogue and a robust exchange of ideas
– Jeff Crosby, InterVarsity Press

This is great news, although admittedly surprising to me – because I’ve been looking for a publisher for some rather radical new biblical criticism I want to have published.

Yesterday, Michael Bird leaked the possibility that IVP’s bookstall might be banned from the SBL annual meeting and Jim West leaked parts of a letter from John Kutsko of SBL to InterVarsity Press, in which Kutsko expressed the desire to discuss the future IVP exhibits at the annual meeting. This all follows a Time Magazine report on InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA’s decision to fire employees who disagree with its Position Paper on sexuality. IVP’s sex position is still firm (i.e. the gays are bad).

Expectedly, evangelicals have become outraged at the possibility of discrimination against a discriminatory employer, and insist that this is all to do with academic freedom, and nothing to do with their homophobia. There’s a concerned article in the conservative evangelical World magazine, a response by Michael J. Kruger of the Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina called “How My Books are Being Banned at the Society of Biblical Literature“, and conservative blogger and radio host Erick Erickson announces in alarmist terms that “The Society of Biblical Literature Is Now Banning Christian Organizations“. Christianity Today reports on Michael Bird’s blog post, Rod Dreher of The American Conservative deplores “The Power Of The LGBT Seal Of Approval“, and Albert Mohler (president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) claims that the “secular left” has become more intolerant than the Christian evangelicals who are firing pro-gays from their jobs and that the SBL has “trended to the left” over the years and now wishes to ban any group not committed to “the biblical truth” of gender, marriage, and sexuality.

But as for the question of whether IVP should have a space at the SBL annual meeting? Well, I agree with Noam Chomsky, and not just because I want IVP to display my forthcoming book. A few decades ago, Chomsky said, in defending a famous French holocaust denier’s right to express his denial of the Jewish holocaust:

It is elementary that freedom of expression (including academic freedom) is not to be restricted to views of which one approves, and that it is precisely in the case of views that are almost universally despised and condemned that this right must be most vigorously defended.

Thank God that IVP share this commitment to fostering dialogue and a robust exchange of ideas. I’ll send my book proposal in soon.

Og the Giant’s Memoirs now on


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King Og of Bashan has written down his life experiences, and they appear on!

I have lived a long life, and it is difficult to remember all that I have experienced. I am forever indebted to the Jewish people for being so diligent in their note-taking and for making sure that history is not forgotten. My story can be pieced together from accounts recorded in their texts, both in the written Torah, as well as in the collection of teachings known as the Midrash.

Shaul Wolf (not King Og)

Shaul Wolf (not King Og)

You can have a read of Og’s memoirs here. It seems that staff writer Shaul Wolf has helped him compile his memoirs from Genesis, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Genesis Rabbah, Targums Jonathan and Onkelos, the Talmud, Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer, Nahmanides (Ramban), Samuel ben Meir (Rashbam), Maimonides (Rambam), Abraham ibn Ezra, Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi), Daat Zekeinim and Baal HaTurim.

Can we distinguish the Christ of Faith from the Man of History?


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Elliot R. Wolfson writes:

Prima facie, one might suppose that since we are dealing with a contemporary personality, in contrast to studying an individual from the distant past, the scholar should be able to separate the wheat of historical fact from the chaff of pious embellishment. The judiciousness of this expectation notwithstanding, it seems that chronological proximity does not alleviate the methodological problem…. It does not seem tenable to sever the realistic from the fictional in a clear-cut way, as the latter is what engenders the former…. To state the matter openly, though not as nuanced as I would like, it is not apparent to me that any methodology can presume to divest the Rebbe of his garb as rebbe, so that the person of Menaḥem Mendel Schneerson will come into clear view.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, let me state unequivocally that I do not deny that there are more and less reliable sources, nor am I suggesting that it is impossible to ascertain any historical information about the Rebbe’s life outside of his persona as the movement’s leader. Of course, this is possible, as other scholars have already demonstrated. What I am arguing, however, is that the very notion of a Ḥasidic rebbe must be understood as a composite figure, a corporate entity, if you will, a man whose identity is configured by his followers and perhaps also by his opponents….

Even the more sober attempts to treat the Rebbe or the movement in scientifically
verifiable terms cannot free themselves entirely from the grip of hagiography.
Simply put, without that there would be no framework within which to study the life of Menaḥem Mendel Schneerson, and this is as true for the scholar as it is for the partisan. Attempts to penetrate through the shroud of hagiography are futile, if it is presumed that one can remove that shroud entirely to observe some naked historical truth. The only truth that may be observed is truth garbed in the appearance of truth.

– Elliot R. Wolfson, Open Secret: Postmessianic Messianism and the Mystical Revision of Menaḥem Mendel Schneerson (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), pp. 13-14.

Rebbe Menaḥem Mendel Schneerson died only 20 years ago – although his followers believe he has been exalted to heaven, where he intercedes for them, and many of them believe that he will return at the end of the age, as the Messiah.

Thomas Römer on the composition of the Hebrew Bible and Mamma Mia!


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In “Autopsie de la Bible” (31 August 2016), French journal Témoignage chrétien interviews Professor Thomas Römer, chair of The Hebrew Bible and its Contexts at the Collège de France. It’s a good read.

And at the end, there is a section in which Thomas Römer explains the composition of the Hebrew Bible by comparing it to the use of Abba songs in the film Mamma Mia!

Thomas Römer earlier made the comparison with Mamma Mia! in his Inaugural Lecture at the Collège de France (5 February 2009). Although the movie is getting a bit old, his use of it was obviously memorable – and, dare I say it, more memorable than the movie itself. Have a look at my earlier Remnant of Giants post, where I transcribed and translated that part of his Inaugural Lecture.

Here’s the relevant part of his more recent Témoignage chrétien interview:



Interviewer: In your “Inaugural Lecture,” you explained that the Pentateuch was constructed a little like the musical film Mamma Mia!

Thomas Römer: Yes, this was at the time that this film was released. For its screenplay, the film constructed a fairly banal story from different songs of the group Abba. The songs originally had no connection, neither chronological nor thematic. But the screenplay devised a fictional marriage to impose order on songs whose only connection was to have been written by the same composers and sung by the same group. And the result was a movie with a story loosely hung together.

It seemed to me that the image was useful to show how traditions of the Pentateuch which were unrelated in the original were linked together. On the one hand, you have the history of the world, with its grand narratives, the creation of the world, of man, the Flood, Babel; disparate narratives that have no other link between them except to imagine the origins of the world and humanity. Then there are the narratives of the Patriarchs. Again, they were told separately at first: the adventures of Jacob, of Isaac, of Abraham. And Joseph is yet another story. These stories have the same literary genre, but they were not written to follow each other. Jacob is probably the the most ancient story and Abraham came last. But in the Bible, they chose to put Abraham first.

The stories of the Patriarchs and the stories of the Exodus were, at the beginning, not linked at all. In the stories of the Patriarchs, importance is placed on descent, on genealogy – but in the story of Exodus, genealogies disappear. Even Moses was not an ancestor. He has sons of whom we do not know at all what become of them. In the episode of the golden calf, God said, “I will destroy all these people and I will make of thee a great nation.” But Moses refuses to become an ancestor. This is a profound reflection on a question in emerging Judaism: how are we Jewish? Because we descended from Abraham, from Isaac, from Jacob? Or because we keep the commandments that Moses transmitted at Sinai?


Lors de votre « Leçon inaugurale », vous avez expliqué que le Pentateuque était un peu fabriqué comme le film musical Mama Mia.

Oui, c’était au moment où ce film est sorti. Pour son scénario, on a construit une histoire assez banale à partir des différentes chansons du groupe Abba. Les chansons, à l’origine n’avaient aucun lien ni chronologique ni thématique. Mais le scénario du film a imaginé une rocambolesque histoire de mariage pour imposer un ordre à des chansons dont le seul lien était d’avoir été composées par les mêmes auteurs et chantées par le même groupe. Et à l’arrivée, on a un film avec une histoire qui se tient à peu près.

Il m’a semblé que l’image était utile pour montrer comment les traditions du Pentateuque, avaient été reliées entre elles alors qu’elles n’avaient aucun lien à l’origine. D’une part, vous avez l’histoire du monde, avec les grands récits, création du monde, de l’homme, Déluge, Tour de Babel ; récits disparates qui n’ont pas d’autre lien entre eux que d’imaginer les origines du monde et de l’humanité. Puis, il y a les récits des Patriarches. Là aussi, on avait raconté de manière séparée d’abord les aventures de Jacob, d’Isaac, d’Abraham. Et Joseph est encore une autre histoire. Ces récits ont le même genre littéraire, mais ils n’ont pas été écrits pour se suivre. Jacob est probablement l’histoire la plus ancienne et Abraham, le dernier venu. Or dans la Bible, on a choisi de mettre Abraham d’abord.

Les histoires des Patriarches et les histoires de l’Exode, à l’origine, ne sont pas du tout liées. Dans les histoires patriarcales, l’importance est mise sur la descendance, sur la généalogie, alors que dans le récit de l’Exode, les généalogies dispa – raissent. Même Moïse n’est pas un ancêtre. Il a des fils dont on ne sait pas du tout ce qu’ils deviennent. Dans l’épisode du veau d’or, Dieu dit « Je vais exterminer tout ce peuple et je ferai avec toi un grand peuple ». Mais Moïse refuse de devenir un ancêtre. C’est une réflexion profonde sur une question du judaïsme naissant; comment est-on juif ? Parce qu’on descend d’Abraham, d’Isaac, de Jacob ? Ou parce qu’on observe les commandements que Moïse a transmis au Sinaï ? 

JSHJ defines the neue Zeitgeist (Fourth Quest?) for future Historical Jesus Studies: “Memory” and “Metacriticism” are In


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They’ve done it.

The latest issue of The Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus (14, no. 1 [2016]) has defined the neue Zeitgeist for future study of the Historical Jesus (nb. this is not, by any means, the Fourth Quest… well, ok, maybe it’s the Fourth Quest, but they’re not saying it, ok?)

This issue of JSHJ marks a turning-point in the field.

Details are in the twin-editorial by new editors Anthony Le Donne and James G. Crossley, but the “neue Zeitgeist” (the NZ) can be boiled down to this:

  1. Memory
  2. Metacriticism

As examples of NZ Historical Jesus studies, the issue offers Dale Allison and Richard Bauckham on social memory. In respect of metacriticism, “The essay by Robert Myles … provides an exemplar” (Le Donne 2016:4).

We are in exciting times for Historical Jesus scholarship. Exciting times.

Richard Hays’s method and failure of method in Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels


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echoes-gospelsI was just having a read through of Chris Keith’s comments on Richard Hays’s methodology in Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (Baylor UP, 2016). Please have a read, as he makes some good points. Yet I’ve got a particular criticism to add, which relates to the same introductory section.

Hays’ methodology for the detection of allusion either flirts with the idea that interpreters must have spiritual discernment to fully understand allusions to the Old Testament, or maybe simply embraces such a view. It’s not hard to catch the echoes of this underlying confessional assumption. So he speaks of having “ears to hear”, or having a “conversion” of the imagination, requiring “faith”, approaching the text with “humility”, and contrasts the right way of reading “echoes” with the bogeyman of secular, “modern historical criticism”. So it is difficult not to reach the conclusion that the style of reading that Hays promotes – of reading the Old Testament via the Christocentric assumptions of the New, and in a dialectical fashion – necessarily involves confessional assumptions. In particular, he assumes that the one with “ears to hear” has some ability (‘spiritual’) in addition to intellectual abilities.

But Hays might have explained his method without this level of religious obfuscation. The dynamics of rereading older texts through a new lens is hardly new to modern scholarship. Classical scholarship has managed, quite well and extensively, to analyse allusion and mimicry of texts and their precursors, without suggesting that later readers possessed spiritual abilities. The Classicist Joseph Pucci, for example, employs the concept of the “full-knowing reader” to explain how a reader can “recognize and make coherent what is formerly hidden” due to her “unique competencies” (Full-Knowing Reader, pp. xi, xv). By  full-knowing reader, Pucci means one who possesses sufficient insider knowledge to recognize the marker of an external source text, so as to enable her to consider some of the interrelations between the texts, and thereby contemplate how they affect the meaning of either the alluding or evoked texts. So Pucci manages to explain, clearly  and analytically, much the same concept as does Hays, but without dipping into obscurantist language to do so.

I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be an admission of the subjectivity of allusion and other intertextual uses of the Old Testament. I think, rather, as does Pucci,  that subjectivity is inevitable for allusion, echo, etc. As I wrote in an article in Biblical Interpretation (“Drawing Our Fish in the Sand“), “once a reader is directed to a consideration of a biblical allusion, there is no obvious procedure for ending or even limiting the imaginative interaction of
texts which allusion inaugurates.” Allusion and echo are impossible to pin down; these intertextual phenomena can generate a wide number of possible meanings, depending on the scope, content, and emphases of each subject’s textual encyclopedia.

I agree with Hays that the echoes of Old Testament scripture in the Gospels are complex, multivalent, and differ between different readers. But all of this can be, as it has been in other disciplines in relation to other texts, analysed in strictly analytical terms. And if the aim is to better understand the Gospels, it should be here, too. To the extent Hays falls back on the obscurantism of the concept of “spiritual discernment”, or the false humility of being recipient of a form of access to the text which is limited to the elect, it should be viewed as a failure of method and analysis.

Did Jesus save the Aliens?


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alien-jesusJust last month, the Kepler mission discovered an Earth-like planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, in that parent star’s habitable zone. It’s only 4.25 light years away, which makes it a pretty close neighbour of Earth. The Kepler mission has also found some 216 planets in habitable zones of other parent stars, and of these has determined that 20 are most likely to support life. Unlike the habitable planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, all of these other habitable planets are many 100s of light years from Earth.

We are not alone.

Jerome Eckstein, in “The Fall and Rise of Man”, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 5, no. 1  (1965), pondered on what the discovery of alien life would mean for traditional Christian religion:

Let our imaginations roam, and let us speculate about the possible conflicts between future discoveries of space exploration and our old religious beliefs, if these religious beliefs are understood as offering knowledge of the kind given by science. Suppose a strangely figured race of creatures with the approximate intelligence of humans and a culture and ethics radically different from ours was discovered on some distant star, would this not pose serious problems to the dogmatic and authoritarian interpretations of the Judaeo-Christian religions? Would these creatures, who obviously were not descended from Adam and Eve, be tainted with original sin? Would they too have souls? Would they be in need of grace and salvation? Did Jesus absorb their sins? Would they be in need of the Messiah? Would they be subject to the laws and traditions of these earth-centred religions? Would they be eligible to life in the hereafter? (80)

What do you think? Might Jesus have become incarnated as sentient life-forms on other planets? Does the plausibility of alien life-forms make traditional religious dogmas like incarnation, salvation, and the Trinity a bit parochial, in the perspective of the wide universe? What about the other forms of life on this planet? Would theology find a way to rationalize the existence of aliens? Are these questions a bit silly? But more silly than other theological questions?

Maybe C.S. Lewis has a point (in “Religion and Rocketry”):

Each new discovery, even each new theory, is held at first to have the most wide-reaching and theological consequences. It is seized by unbelievers as the basis for a new attack on Christianity; it is often, and more embarassingly, seized by injudicious believers as the basis for a new defence. But usually, when the popular hubbub has subsided and the novelty has been chewed over by real theologians, real scientists and real philosophers, both sides find themselves pretty much where they were before.

As Albert Schweitzer once said, “Es gibt keine Lage so verzweifelt, dass die Theologie keine Ausweg wüsste” (“There is no question so complicated that Theology does not know the answer”). I’m sure that if and when sentient aliens are encountered, Theology will come up with all kinds of rationalizations.