Tuesday, June 30, 2009

a poem absolutely unrelated to antiquity or religion

I just found the following Dickinson poem striking, although it is not directly related to the general issues of this blog:

We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies.

The heroism we recite
Would be a daily thing,
Did not ourselves the cubits warp
For fear to be a king.

Forbidden Fruit and Paradise

Two poems, again by Dickinson, which I think go well when read together:

Forbidden fruit a flavor has
That lawful orchards mocks;
How luscious lies the pea within
The pod that duty locks!

I love the lolling, alluring alliteration in these lines. The seductive sounds themselves become forbidden fruit. But I wonder how to interpret with the next poem (which also comes next in the volume of collected poems):

Heaven is what I cannot reach!
The apple on the tree,
Provided it do hopeless hang,
That "heaven" is, to me.

The color on the cruising cloud,
The interdicted ground
Behind the hill, the house behind,-
There paradise is found!

Reading this poem directly after the other, the forbidden fruit itself becomes the emblem of paradise rather than paradise lost. The apple is "heaven." But it remains just out of reach, as the first line announces, and hidden just out of sight--in the clouds, on interdicted ground, and doubly "behind."

Monday, June 29, 2009

Faith a Fine Invention But...

A few days ago, I posted on definitions of faith from the NYTimes from Hebrews to the most skeptical to everything in the middle.

Here is a reflection on faith by Emily Dickinson:

Faith is a fine invention
For gentlemen who see;
But microscopes are prudent
In an emergency.

This is the entirety of a very short (four-lined!) poem. Like all of her poems, it is atitular. It is a nice rhythm and rhyme, making, like a great many of her poems, only the second and fourth lines rhyme. I thought the term "invention" striking here. Invented suggests constructed, created, perhaps even contrived, but nonetheless "fine." But it is only fine within certain bounds, fenced in by "gentlemen who see" and "emergency." The first is inclusive and the second exclusive: it is fine for those who see, but not in an emergency. Who are "those who see"? Are they the "pure in heart" (for they shall see God)? Perhaps an allusion to the (false) etymology of Israel as "the [gentle]man who sees God" (ish roeh el)? The second and third lines, moreover, have centripetal and centrifugal forces. Bringing them together is the emphasis on sight ("see" and "microscope"), but pushing them apart is the type of sight: the nebulous faith of those who see versus the practical or "prudent," specific sight of the physician using a microscope in what seems to be a medical emergency. Reading backwards, then, is the nebulous faith beforehand become more specific in the concept of a "faith healing" that was becoming more popular in nineteenth century in the wake of the second great awakening and following in religious circles in what became known as evangelical and perhaps "holiness" circles? A lot can happen in four lines.

Sanity and Madness: A Matter of Perspective

Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
'T is the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur,-you're straightaway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.

~Emily Dickinson

The Pleasure of a Book

A precious, mouldering pleasure 't is
To meet an antique book,
In just the dress his century wore;
A privilege, I think,

His venerable hand to take,
And warming in our own,
A passage back, or two, to make
To times when he was young.

His quaint opinions to inspect,
His knowledge to unfold
On what concerns our mutual mind,
The literature of old;

What interested scholars most,
What competitions ran
When Plato was a certainty,
And Sophocles a man;

When Sappho was a living girl,
And Beatrice wore
The gown that Dante deified.
Facts, centuries before,

He traverses familiar,
As one should come to town
And tell you all your dreams were true:
He lived where dreams were born.

His presence is enchantment,
You beg him not to go;
Old volumes shake their vellum heads
And tantalize, just so.

~Emily Dickinson

Friday, June 26, 2009

Defining "Faith"

The NYTimes has asked readers to submit a short, pithy definition of "faith."

It begins with the famous definition from Hebrews 11, moves to a skeptical view, and then ends with sort of a middle-of-the-road definition. Read, and, if you are interested enough, respond:

June 26, 2009, 11:00 AM
Weekend Competition: Define Faith
Hundreds of co-vocabularists offered their definitions of “Money” in April, and “America” in May. This weekend, Schott’s Vocab is soliciting definitions of faith.

Faith is described in the Bible as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

H. L. Mencken called faith “an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.”

And, Samuel Butler said of faith, “You can do very little with it, but you can do nothing without it.”

Co-vocabularists are invited to submit their own definitions of faith, the pithier the better, by appending a comment to this post.

Respond here.

Of if you would like to respond on this blog, that might be interesting as well.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Voices of the Past


Imagined voices, and beloved, too,
of those who died, or of those who are
lost unto us like the dead.

Sometimes in our dreams they speak to us;
sometimes in its thought the mind will hear them.

And with their sound for a moment there return
sounds from the first poetry of our life--
like music, in the night, far off, that fades away.

(C.P. Cavafy; trans. Mendelsohn)

I kind of see what I do as a historian/historicist/literary critic of antiquity as speaking with the lost voices of the past. Their literary traces are like ghosts that haunt the present.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Long Live the Hobbit!

I just saw in the Times (London Times, that is) that a two-film version of the Hobbit is in production in New Zealand! I am a HUGE LOTR fan! So, I am very excited to see these new films. Alas, they will not be released until 2010 and 2011 respectively.

It is being directed by Guillermo del Toro, who co-wrote the script with LOTR's Peter Jackson, who is also the executive producer.

See a video interview with del Toro here.


Do you believe in miracles? People in Colwich Kansas do. A boy survives a potentially fatal pole vaulting accident. In the process, the community prayed to the soul of a potentially martyred army chaplain in the Korean War, and the boy recovered.

The Vatican has taken notice and is going to investigate whether or not this is, indeed, a miracle to be attributed to this chaplain, who is being investigated for sainthood.

I know this is way outside of the land of antiquity, but it does raise interest (not just as a human interest story) since martyrdom, miracles, sainthood, and the intermediation of those saints is an important characteristic of early Christianity that persists today in nearly every Christian tradition (except Protestant ones).

"Thunder: Perfect Mind" Available for Preorder!

A book I co-wrote on the Coptic poem, Thunder: Perfect Mind, is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com or you favorite book distributor.

I co-wrote it with Hal Taussig, who works on ancient meals and just wrote a new book on sociology of ancient meals, and my friends Maia Katrosits, Justin Lasser, and Celene Lillie.

Here is the blurb:

What do Toni Morrison, Umberto Eco and Ridley Scott have in common? All of them have been fascinated by an ancient poem from the Nag Hammadi codices, The Thunder: Perfect Mind, and have evoked its words in their work. This poem of provocative self-declarations by a mostly female, sometimes divine figure has already had a full life in the contemporary public imagination. Yet scholarship on Thunder has been limited, and has paid too little attention to the powerful and puzzling I at its center. What might this poem have meant to its ancient audience? How does it complicate and change contemporary images of early Christianity? What are the poem's possibilities for meaning now? In this fresh, post-gnostic translation, and the first book-length treatment in English devoted to Thunder, the history, social world and literary composition of the poem gain new attention and significance, as do the compelling twists and turns of gender and status that the voice of Thunder takes.

I was responsible for tracing its poetic qualities (the longest chapter in a fairly short book).

Canaanites in Bethlehem

I know, 2000+ years ago a dude was born in Bethlehem, but what has been going on there lately...you know, since the building of the Church of the Nativity. Evidently, some interesting archaeology!

Reported by AP at the Discovery Channel:

Untouched Tomb Uncovered in Bethlehem
Nasser Shiyoukhi, Associated Press

June 24, 2009 -- Workers renovating a house in the traditional town of Jesus' birth accidentally discovered an untouched ancient tomb containing clay pots, plates, beads and the bones of two humans, a Palestinian antiquities official said Tuesday.
The 4,000-year-old tomb provides a glimpse of the burial customs of the area's inhabitants during the Canaanite period, said Mohammed Ghayyada, director of the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
Workers in a house near the Church of the Nativity uncovered a hole leading to the intact grave, which was about one meter (roughly three feet) below the ground, he said. They contacted antiquities officials, who photographed the grave as is before removing its contents.
They dated the grave to the Early Bronze Age, between 1,900 B.C. and 2,200 B.C.
Jerusalem-based archaeologist and historian Stephen Pfann called the find "an important reference to the life of the Canaanites," adding that it could give a glimpse into life in the area before the time when the Biblical patriarchs are said to have lived.
While many artifacts exist from this period, intact graves are rare, mainly because of looting, he said.
Intact graves are more useful to scholars because they show how items were arranged.
"Every time a new tomb is found, it adds to the picture," Pfann said.
The findings will be housed in the Bethlehem Peace Center, a cultural center not far from where the tomb was discovered.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Angel of the LORD and Jesus

I would like to draw attention to a post by Mike Koke on many of April DeConick's recent discussions of early Christology as well as referring to my own reviews of Bauckham. In the comment section, there is an extended discussion between myself and Nick Norelli, who has also reviewed Bauckham, on some of the more emotional (annoyed) aspects of my review as well as a nice summation statement by Mike Koke on the whole issue in the comments.

"Elgin's Marbles" and the New Acropolis Museum

Most people studying antiquity know (and all should know) about how the Brit Lord Elgin, as an agent of the Ottoman Empire, brought back (or stole) the marbles from the Parthenon on the Athenian Acropolis to England. This has led to an ongoing controversy about whether to return the marbles to Greece or to keep them in England. Are they the property of Greece, of England, or all of us? I personally favor Greece mixed with all of us. The primary argument used to keep them in England--that Greece did not have the facilities to keep the marbles preserved and intact and that if left there they would have suffered from the elements--has been significantly weakened with the building of a very expensive new Acropolis Museum in Greece.

From the NYTimes:

June 24, 2009
Elgin Marble Argument in a New Light

ATHENS — Not long before the new Acropolis Museum opened last weekend, the writer Christopher Hitchens hailed in this newspaper what he called the death of an argument.

Britain used to say that Athens had no adequate place to put the Elgin Marbles, the more than half of the Parthenon frieze that Lord Elgin spirited off when he was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire two centuries ago. Since 1816 they have been prizes of the British Museum. Meanwhile, Greeks had to make do with the leftovers, housed in a ramshackle museum built in 1874.

So the new museum that Bernard Tschumi, the Swiss-born architect, has devised near the base of the Acropolis is a $200 million, 226,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art rebuttal to Britain’s argument.

From certain angles it has all the charm and discretion of the Port Authority terminal in Manhattan. Neighbors have been complaining all the way to the bank, housing values having shot up because of it.

Inside, however, it is light and airy, and the collection is a miracle. Weathered originals from the Parthenon frieze, the ones Elgin left behind, are combined with plaster casts of what’s in London to fill the sun-drenched top floor of the museum, angled to mirror the Parthenon, which gleams through wraparound windows. The clash between originals and copies makes a not-subtle pitch for the return of the marbles. Greece’s culture minister, Antonis Samaras, on the occasion of the opening last week, said what Greek officials have been saying for decades: that the frieze, broken up, is like a family portrait with “loved ones missing.” Mr. Samaras’s boss, Greece’s president, Karolos Papoulias, spoke less metaphorically: “It’s time to heal the wounds of the monument with the return of the marbles which belong to it.”


As to whether Elgin had legal authority to remove the marbles, the Ottomans being the ruling power, as the British maintain, Mr. Pandermalis paused. “The problem is not legal,” he decided. “It’s ethical and cultural.” George Voulgarakis, a former culture minister, wasn’t so circumspect when asked the same question. He said, “It’s like saying the Nazis were justified in plundering priceless works of art during the Second World War.”

“I understand what museums fear,” Mr. Voulgarakis added. “They think everything will have to go back if the marbles do. But the Acropolis is special.”

That’s what the Greeks have insisted for years when arguing why the frieze belongs to Greece, but they also say the frieze belongs to the world when pointing out why it doesn’t belong to the British. The frieze in fact belonged to the Parthenon, a building here and nowhere else, the best argument for repatriation, except the idea now is not to reattach the marbles where they came from but to move them from one museum to another, from the British Museum to the new Acropolis Museum, albeit next door — a different matter, if not to the Greeks.


For their part, the British also point out that the marbles’ presence in London across two centuries now has its own perch on history, having influenced neo-Classicism and Philhellenism around the globe. That’s true, and it’s not incidental that the best editions of ancient Greek texts are published by British, French, Americans and Germans, not Greeks. But imperialism isn’t an endearing argument.


Elsewhere, museums have begun collaborating, pooling resources, bending old rules. The British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Louvre and other great public collectors of antiquity have good reason to fear a slippery slope if the marbles ever do go back, never mind what the Greeks say.

At the same time the Acropolis Museum plays straight to the heart, sailing past ownership issues into the foggy ether of a different kind of truth. It’s the nobler, easier route.

Looting antiquities obviously can’t be tolerated. Elgin operated centuries ago in a different climate. The whole conversation needs to be reframed. As Mr. Dimou asked, “If they were returned, would Greeks be wiser, better? Other objects of incredible importance are scattered around Greece and no one visits them.” Mr. Liakos put it another way: “It’s very Greek to ask the question. Who owns history? It’s part of our nationalist argument. The Acropolis is our trademark. But the energy spent on antiquity drains from modern creativity.”

Maybe we should put all the antiquities uncovered in Britain from the Roman period in Rome, place the crown jewels permanently in Paris? It is the same thing from the other direction. Museums, while fascinating and often attended by myself and convenient collections of artifacts from all around the world, are holdovers from modern imperialism and remain imperialist enterprises. Perhaps a new system of "borrowing" would soften this aspect, however. It is strange to have only part of the friezes in one place and the rest in another--keep them with the building itself. What to do with the Code of Hammurabi in the Louvre, I don't know?

By the way, here is the latest piece I have seen in the London Times.

Julian and Cavafy

One recurring figure who appears in C.P. Cavafy's poetry, whether from his own perspective or mostly from his detractors, is Julian "the Apostate," who attempted to stem the tide of the growth of Christianity by reviving "paganism" and, in fact, in this case, the "ism" is appropriate, since he attempted a systematization of it in many ways that mirrored the instituational structures of early Christianity in the fourth century. The following poem comments on this attempt:

Julian, Seeing Indifference

"Seeing, then, that there is a great indifference
among us toward the gods"--he says with that solemn affect.
Indifference. But what then did he expect?
Let him organize religion as much as he pleased,
let him write the high priest of Galatia as much as he pleased,
or to others like him, exhorting, giving directions.
His friends weren't Christians: that much is certain.
But even so they weren't able to
play the way that he did (brought up as a Christian)
with the system of a new religion,
ridiculous in theory and in practice.
In the end they were Greeks. Nothing in excess, Augustus.

(trans. Mendelsohn)

Bauckham's "Jesus and the God of Israel" 2D (Shema in the NT)

Finally, in what seems to me an appendix in the chapter, albeit not without foreshadowing in terms of “pan biblical theology,” Bauckham exegetes three NT passages’ allusions to the Shema: Rom. 3:28-30; 1 Cor. 8:1-6; and John 10:30.

He begins by noting, contra Margaret Barker, that there is no evidence for non-monotheistic forms of pre-exilic Israelite religion to survive into the Second Temple period to be available for early Christians. Early Judaism is “uniformly” monotheistic and NT writers presuppose Jewish monotheism and do not intend to depart from it.

The widespread allusions to the Shema in the NT militates against Barker’s point. Outside of the three passages he analyzes, he cites Matt 22:37; Mark 12:21-30, 32, Luke 10:22, Gal. 3:20; 1 Tim 2:5; and James 2:19. So, it appears in all of the corpora of the NT, excepting Revelation.

I am fascinated that for the bulk of the chapter on the OT, we barely glimpsed a text, and now in what feels like an appendix, it is all exegesis. I guess he is just going where he is comfortable, since he is a NT scholar.

He again says that there is considerable evidence that the twice-daily Shema was central to the period and echoed frequently in the literature: I just wish he would cite someone on this (maybe he does in later chapters, because I doubt this is the last we've heard of the Shema). I want to know his source to see the evidence.

Rom. 3:28-30: The phrase “God is one” in the passage alludes to the Shema. Paul uses it for the relatively novel (cf. Philo Spec. 1.52) concept that God is the God of Gentiles and, whether circumcised or uncircumcised, justified by the same faith. That “God is one” refers to the Shema as a foreshortened form, he refers to a variety of sources (mainly Sibylline Oracles, Philo, Joseph and Aseneth; and Ps-Sophocles). He says this alludes specifically to the LXX formulation understood as “one and only God of all reality.” The LXX does not mean this in itself, but in its interpretation by these other sources. Paul’s usage does push it in this direction in a distinctive combination of particularism and universalism that argues that Gentiles do not need to convert to become “justified.”

He sees this as an echo of Zech 14:9, showing Paul is not so radically novel, but a continuation of Zechariah. I actually think Zechariah is extraordinarily important for a great deal of NT passages and its underlying influence may be underappreciated more generally.

1 Cor. 8:1-6: This covers some of the same tracks as in the end of Ch. 1, but with new observations as well. It is basically a discussion on food sacrificed to idols. He focuses on the phrases “no idol has no existence in the world” and “there is no God but one.” He compares with Deut. 4:35, 39; 2 Enoch 47:3 (J); and Mark 12:32. He spends some time on “in the world” as an echo of in the heavens and below on the earth. The idols are not “a nothing,” but they are not a god—they are actually demonic (see 10:19-20). So they have existence, just not in the way that their worshipers presume. This, then, is an additional allusion to Deut 32:7 (LXX): “They sacrificed to demons and not to a god.” (cf. Bar. 4:7; Jub. 11:17; 1 Enoch 19:1; Syb.Or. frag. 1:22). The passage goes on in 10:22 to refer to god’s jealousy, which he takes as an allusion to Deut. 32:21, relating God’s jealously to his desire to be the sole object of devotion. As such, B connects it back to the Shema (this argument feels a bit strained at this point). Perhaps loosely it is, since both are related to the larger issue of obedience, just from differing perspectives. Most importantly, Paul associates divine jealousy with Jesus, since he is the referent for “Lord.”

Additionally, “loves god” is already an allusion to the Shema (8:3), and by v. 5, he is shifting from the issue of existence to allegiance, devotion, and worship. The many gods and lords for them contrasts with the one god and one lord “for us.” He later emphasizes this “for us” which gives a personal, particularistic counterpoint the universalistic aspect of creator of all things.

He reiterates a great deal of his exegesis from ch. 1 at this point with the Shema rearranged to include Jesus as one Lord with the Father as one God, including Jesus in creation (although I think in a more restorative role). He additionally notes of non-Jewish texts that present God as creator of “all things” using a variety of prepositions (ek, en, eis, dia): Ps-Aristotle, Mund. 4:3; Asclepius 34; Marcus Aurelius, Med. 4.3). It was something familiar in both Jewish and non-Jewish circles.

Finally, John 10:30: “I and the Father are one.” This is not usually regarded as a Shema reference, but B sees it as an adaptation of “god is one” mentioned first. He does note that it shifts the gender of “one” from its usual masculine to neuter. I’m not sure about the significance of this shift, however.

He also notes issue of father and son and the oneness with disciples—this is just not just closeness, but one people corresponding to the one God in that worship of the one god unites the people as one people. I think there is more to this in John. For example, when Jesus says that he is in the Father and the Father is in him (something noted by Bauckham to demonstrate the identification with one another in oneness; 10:38; 14:10, 11), he also says that he is in the disciples and the disciples are in him (14:20; cf. 17:21, 23). B does cite, but does not mention the content of or discuss these verses. This suggests that the relationship between Jesus and the Father is paralleled in the relationship between the disciples and Jesus. What one says about one relationship applies to the other due to mutual “in-ness.” Does this mean that the disciples are now included in the unique divine identity? Indeed, “they are in us” (17:21). If Jesus and God are mutually identified through in-ness, so are the disciples and Jesus; and, therefore, the disciples and God. Perhaps in arguing for the divine identity of Jesus, B has laid groundwork for the divine identity of Johannine Christians.

Bauckham's "Jesus and the God of Israel" 2C (Canonical Criticism)

This is the third installment on chapter 2; there is one more to come. To see what I have written before, just follow the "Richard Bauckham" or "Jesus and the God of Israel" tags back.

In this part, Bauckham turns to canonical criticism. Note that we have not engaged any passage of any length in this chapter since Deuteronomy!

B claims that, contra MacDonald, not everyone who perceives monotheism in ancient documents is influenced by the Enlightenment. He suggests that Second Temple and NT scholars are more immune. I disagree: they too have a tendency toward Enlightenment universalizing categories and, too, often employ evolutionary or progressivist models. Nonetheless, he still, I think wisely, keeps to his language of “exclusive Yahwism.”

Shifting from pre-exilic Israelite historical models and their usage for current theology, he shifts lenses to canonical criticism. This criticism does not engage with what a text might have originally meant, but how it was read by ancient Jews who formed the canon. In this way, he can avoid engaging often ambiguous texts and read less monotheistic texts in light of more monotheistic texts. In understanding the texts themselves, I think this is a highly dangerous methodology, but he may be right that these texts were later read in this way. So he has shifted the debate from any particular text’s original context to later contexts, thereby never really engaging in the chapter a particular text’s perspective (except D). I am not criticizing canonical criticism, but think that it should be informed by engaging the texts on their own to see how their meaning may have changed by being placed in the canon; that’s all. This theology of canon, then, will be a building block in his pan-biblical theology.

He then reiterates much of chapter 1: the unique relationship with Israel, the importance of the first commandment and the Shema, inadequately called “monolatry because the practice marks out monotheism most obviously through practice. And God as creator and sovereign marks him as unique. Exclusivism of election and universalism of monotheism worked out in “eschatological monotheism” when all nations would worship YHWH (basically 2nd Isaiah). He acknowledges that some texts are more particularistic and other more universalistic, based upon particular conditions of diaspora, resistance to Roman rule, etc., but ultimately not contradictory.

He notes that this is the Jewish reading of Jewish scriptures that the NT presupposes.

He acknowledges that there might be some difficulties of reading the OT as a whole rather than in parts: only parts of it are clearly exclusively monotheistic. He cites James Sanders’s “monotheizing” (from Canon and Community) tendencies that have residues of the polytheisms of its surrounding cultures. This is not just a struggle of monotheizing found in a book of the OT, but in its editing and selection process. Nonetheless, the selection process presupposes a preexisting monotheizing tendency. Not all literature in the canon is monotheizing, but its inclusion probably indicates that (at least for the Jews making the selection) the books do not resist or contradict such a process. These books that are not monotheistic, however, are monotheized when read together with the monotheizing books in the monotheizing canon.

In what follows, he wades through several scholarly discussions of canonical criticism and the degree of monotheizing by Bernhard Lang, John Sawyer, and Ronald Clements. Sawyer suggests that there are three categories of OT texts: (1) a few clearly monotheistic; (2) some that are not originally monotheistic, but later read in that way due to influence of monotheistic texts; (3) embarrassingly polytheistic texts. The conclusion is that the Hebrew Bible is not prevalently monotheistic.

Clements, however, notes that when read diachronically, the texts do not seem to be prevalently monotheistic, but when read synchronically, do.

For B, monotheism is not the exclusion of other “gods,” but the placement of YHWH in a class of his own apart from all other beings, even if they are called “gods.” It is “transcendental uniqueness” (a new term in the book). B argues that it is through being creator and ruler that the monotheizing process hypothesized by Sanders occurs (although there are passages in which this process is undetectable).

This expands the field of explicitly monotheistic texts, since Sawyer only included those that exclude other gods, while considering the ruler and creator texts as non-monotheistic, but later read in a monotheistic way. Neh. 9:6 is the test-case: in a text that mentions the host of heaven for Sawyer, it is non-monotheistic; for B, it is. The host of heaven does not qualify, but underscores YHWH’s uniqueness by making him their creator.

In other parts of the Bible, other gods are either part of YHWH’s retinue or impotent non-entities. Retinue: gods, sons of god, sons of the most high, holy ones, host of YHWH, and host of heaven. The divine assembly, he argues, does not constitute a council, since they do not argue or give advice or express independence (the exceptions are Job 1:9-12; 2:4-7; and 1 Kings 22:19-22, in which they do act independently and/or offer YHWH advice). These scenes, I would note, are important “residues” of earlier conceptions of how YHWH’s retinue functioned, although in its current context they struggle against the “monotheizing dynamic.”

“YHWH’s retinue are the attendants of an absolute monarch, whose sheer numbers evidence his greatness and whose constant praises serve precisely to define and preach his transcendent uniqueness” (88).

Other gods, moreover, do not diminish YHWH’s uniqueness not by denying their existence, but by denying them any effective power vis-à-vis YHWH. As such, the use of “god” is not decisive as how these figures are defined in relation to YHWH. Although there are some interesting distinctions made on a linguistic level and even malformations of the term “god” (see Ps. 96:5).

In the Second Temple period, the words for “god” almost completely drop out of use (except at Qumran and in Philo) for heavenly beings. In a footnote, he also notes that language of God’s imcomparability also drops out (again, except at Qumran).

Ultimately, he claims that using monotheizing texts to read non-monotheizing texts is a legit move because it just continues the monotheizing dynamic inherent in canonization. I only agree insofar as it regards canonical criticism if this is, in fact, how late second temple Jews were reading these texts. It is not legit, however, in trying to understand the text itself. To normalize the texts against the later monotheizing tendencies can distort their meaning; at the same time, to read their earlier meanings forward into later periods distorts how later Jews (and Christians) read them.

Another difference between Sawyer and B’s categories regard the “incomparability texts” (e.g., Exod. 15:11; Jer. 49:19; 50:4; Ps. 89:6, 8)—such as “who is like you among the Gods, O LORD?” Sawyer reads these as originally polytheistic but become monotheistic by later reading. B claims that they are inherently monotheistic or early expressions of an emerging “monotheizing dynamic” and only “superficially polytheistic.”

“Whether the existence of other gods is denied or whether YHWH is simply said to be in a class of his own by comparison with them is of small importance to the general sense of all these texts” (90). I might push it the other way. Texts that say “there is no other” are another form of incomparability texts that do not deny the existence of other gods. As in D, it is the different between the gods and the god of gods.

Finally, the “embarrassingly polytheistic” texts. These are mostly where YHWH battles a chaotic monster (Rahab, Leviathan, the Sea): it is “part and parcel of traditional monotheistic religions” (90-91). And, as B knows, of polytheistic religions (e.g., Enuma Elish). Again, the taming of chaos does not diminish but underscores monotheism by showing YHWH is more powerful.

“Recognition of the ‘monotheizing’ dynamic in the form I have proposed does not prevent us recognizing in the Hebrew Bible material that in a wide variety of ways resembles the language and myths of Canaanite and other Near Eastern religions. Rather, it shows us the way such material is constantly being re-functioned to serve the purpose of asserting and characterizing the transcendent uniqueness of YHWH” (91).

I am drawn into agreement on this point. I have found this true in my own research as well.

He concludes that his proposal does not suppress the diversity of the texts (although this seems counterintuitive to his general reading to me) but that the whole of the Hebrew Bible can be read in accordance with early Jewish monotheism. Or, I might nuance, that it may have been read this way by ancient Jews. This focus on the monotheizing tendencies, however, has interestingly led him into the language of “convergence” and “differentiation” (via Mark Smith) used by historical model currently preferred among Hebrew Bible scholars for pre-exilic Israel. It is not evolution, but dynamic. I think someone like Mark Smith might agree on this point.

He adds a little section on Ancient Near Eastern parallels to the “incomparability texts” that sound just like those of the Hebrew Bible, from Babylon (regarding Sin and Marduk) and Egypt (regarding Amun-Re, who also creates and is sovereign over all things). He regards these as also monotheizing in tendency, but they never consistently stick to one god, but apply this language to different ones: what is usually called “henotheism,” the worship of one god as supreme at a time. He admits that this may have been the case in ancient Israel too, but in the Hebrew Bible as a collection, this older language is only applied to YHWH, being “re-functioned” for monotheism.

Bauckham's "Jesus and the God of Israel," 2B (Historical Reconstructions and Modern Theology)

Continuing in Chapter 2 (to see earlier posts, just hit the "Richard Bauckham" or the "Jesus and the God of Israel" tags), Bauckham turns to historical models and their applicability to modern theology for the biblical theologian.

In the next section, Bauckham discusses the problem of how a biblical theologian to construct a theology of the old testament while allowing historical “facts” could have been different than the bible’s own narrative? I appreciate his recognition of a possible divergence here, and the archaeological evidence indicates such a divergence in ancient Israelite practice. I find this section difficult to evaluate, since I am not a theologian, but as a historian, I’ll give it my best try. For example, I could never ask, “Could YHWH really be as the Old Testament portrays him if, historically, even the claim of exclusive Yahwism has merely been projected back through fictionalized history after the exile all the way to Moses?” (71). I am more interested in how these texts variously portray God rather than considering whether or not what they portray is an accurate account of God. I’ll leave that to others.

But it does intrude into his assessment of historical reconstructions; for example, he doubts “that the emerging consensus that Israelite religion was in origin simply Canaanite religion has a historically persuasive basis in the evidence.” While framed as historical inquiry, by the time we get to the end of this section, his dismissal is based mostly on theological (and not historical) grounds. But let’s look at the historical points he makes along the way.

He recognizes the worship of other gods besides YHWH, particularly Asherah, in the preexilic period, which is itself consistent with biblical narrative (although biblical narrative is opposed to this practice). It demonstrates the existence of both polytheistic practice alongside exclusive Yahwism at least in the monarchical period. By the way, “exclusive Yahwism” will become his preferred terminology in this section to cover everything from “monolatry” to “Jewish monotheism.” He also accurately notes that Yahwism was a “theological judgment” often used in “historical retrospect,” due to its later normativity in the post-exilic period. He also notes that just because there is no archaeological evidence for exclusive Yahwism until the late monarchical period does not mean it did not preexist before this evidence; indeed, a lack of evidence is not an evidence of lack.

Next he turns to the necessity and problems of history of religions models, especially developmental models. He’s probably right here—developmental models are difficult to maintain, largely, actually, due to the persistence of polytheistic or henotheistic practice.

For the rest of the time, he reviews Robert Gnuse’s No Other Gods. In so doing, he will suggest that mainstream scholarship is as speculative and hypothetical as those outside the mainstream. By showing how Gnuse dismisses other models outside the mainstream, B notes that Gnuse places the greatest weight on the fact that they are outside the mainstream. Gnuse may problematically dismiss alternative and barely defensible models ineptly. I do not know. I haven’t read his work. But showing Gnuse’s inability to dismiss alternatives does not actually demonstrate the weakness of the consensus model. Of course, model building is how historical inquiry works, by developing the model that best accounts for all of the available evidence, taking into account the biases and ambiguities of the evidence, etc. You cannot “prove” or “disprove” a model, unless they are really bad, but can only offer a different one that better takes account of all of the evidence (this, in fact, is what B himself attempts in his first chapter—he constructs a model of divinity that tries to take into account the most evidence possible). B recognizes, however, since he is outside of his expertise that he is not really in a position to offer an alternative model. He will just pick away at the consensus model by reviewing a single proponent of that model.

He uses Gnuse as a foil against this model that sees Israelite religion as originally indistinguishable from Canaanite out of which later developments of exclusive Yahwism emerged in a process of “convergence” and “differentiation” (to use Mark Smith’s terms), choosing him not because he is necessarily the most influential or persuasive representative of that model, but because, like Bauckham, he claims to be doing “biblical theology.” I think not choosing to engage someone like Mark Smith, who is more influential, weakens Bauckham’s critique of this model from a historical perspective, but I do see a certain degree of defensibility in that Gnuse is a more direct interlocutor in a theological conversation. Yet on the model's historical persuasiveness (or lack thereof), if you are going to critique an entire movement, engage it at its most persuasive and influential to make your own critique more persuasive. I should note, however, that Bauckham himself later picks up on the model of “convergence” and “differentiation,” so it ultimately is not entirely clear how he differs from the emergent consensus in terms of the pre-exilic period.

Gnuse tends to follow an evolutionary model, in fact, a “punctuated equilibrium” evolutionary model, something I have found more popular not just in biblical scholarship, but in philosophical models of a great deal of processes (religious, economic, etc.) in the current academic climate. I agree with Bauckham that this is just an adaptation of the progressivist Enlightenment model, and often lacks explanatory force. Gnuse, therefore, sees an evolutionary series of revolutions in ancient Israel that culminates in exile where “true monotheism” emerged out of socio-political crisis. Crisis, in fact, is often a catalyst for innovation (by working with traditional materials in new and creative ways).

In addition to Enlightenment projections, B criticizes Gnuse for replacing the Bible’s own narrative with a modern reconstructed history with the conclusion: “It is merely rather surprising that Gnuse sees his work, in its theological aspect, as biblical theology” (79). I see nothing wrong with having a reconstructed historical narrative and using this to inform one’s own theology, even if it diverges with the Bible’s own account. B claims that Gnuse (and others) are just imposing their own ideological commitments onto the ancient evidence. He is probably right. But so does he. He imposes his own theological commitments onto the texts based upon his own current theological tradition. They just simply disagree on what a viable theology is. Not my fight.

According to Gnuse, moreover, this monotheistic breakthrough was only the beginning (evolutionary revolution is ongoing), moving beyond the biblical paradigm.

B criticizes Gnuse on two points here. (1) He only focuses on Jews and Christians, whereas if the evolution is ongoing, shouldn’t Islam be considered another breakthrough? I agree, whether evolutionary or not, if one is doing a broader history of monotheism Islam should be included. (2) He is not mindful to the modern repercussions of this idea, that on this model, the next “evolutionary breakthrough” could be perceived to be “postmodern atheism.” I actually am not quite sure what “postmodern atheism” is. Atheism seems to me to be a primarily modernist mode. Postmodern thought has been effectively employed by theists, in liberal, conservative, moderate (and other) theological circles. This, however, is not an argument of whether it fits the ancient evidence, but its current viability as a theological mode: not my fight except insofar as it is used to assess historical viability.

On the other hand, he praises Gnuse for moving beyond the old-fashioned search for what is unique to how old ideas are transformed.

“As Peter Machinist shows, while Old Testament scholars find it increasingly difficult to locate anything truly unique in Israel’s religion, a strong sense of uniqueness of YHWH and of Israel (and the two as clearly connected) pervades the writings of the Hebrew canon” (80). There it is an establishment of a counter-identity in the face of older and more dominant cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia. I find this rather true. There isn’t much, if anything, in ancient Israelite religion that cannot be found elsewhere, but there is also a sense of their own uniqueness (a paradoxical combination). I think this is something to reflect upon a bit longer, and wish B had done so. Perhaps the self-perceived distinctiveness lies in a particular, unique configuration of individual non-unique elements. It is the interrelation and relationship of these elements that may be of greatest importance rather than any individual trait. It would be good to further discuss how or why these texts, such as D and 2nd Isaiah, construct this exclusivist theology based upon context, when they are nearly always a minor and subordinate religion vis-à-vis Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Hellenstic kingdoms, and Rome? It is quite amazing that they constructed their god as most powerful when they were so often without power. I think a more extended engagement with Machinist, whom B seems to approve of, might be fruitful.

B argues that the quest for the unique identity of YHWH in the Old Testament is not just looking for “monotheistic” claims, but that these claims are made with no diminution of the particularity of YHWH, the God of Israel:

“biblical ‘monotheism,’ whether or not we choose to use the word and however we find it necessary to define it, is a claim about the God who defines himself by his covenant with Israel and the particular name YHWH that cannot be abstracted from his particular identity in his history with Israel” (81).

I could not agree more. He, interestingly, has started to put “monotheism” in quotes—it seems he is loosening the need for the terminology, at least in this chapter, which is probably wise when dealing with the OT.

He often uses the quest for the historical Jesus as an analogue to the historical reconstructions of ancient Israel, criticizing both for trying to recover something behind the “distortions” of canonical accounts, but, instead, just puts a different, modern distortion on top of it. I would note that just because the modern reconstructions are “distorted” in some way, does not free the ancient accounts from distortion. The point is to recognize the tendency of that distortion and see if we can account for it in some way (an admittedly very difficult and ongoing task). On the other hand, I am not sure if the historical Jesus searches are the best analogues, because, in contrast to those in which we only can try to read the gospels against themselves, we actually do have contradictory evidence (such as archaeology) in ancient Israel that D’s perspective, for example, is not representative of the variety of ancient Israelite practice.

B continues:

“If the attractive religious paradigm is that of Israel when Israelite religion was very much like most other ancient Near Eastern religious cultures, then there can be no good reason for continuing to be religiously interested in Israel in particular. Ancient polytheistic religion is, after all, much better documented outside Israel, and has left much more impressive religious literature elsewhere than the few polytheistic fragments that might be recoverable from the monotheistic censuring to which Israel’s religion was subject in the literature that survives in the Old Testament” (81-2).

Maybe, maybe not. This dismissal is too easy. It is like saying that if you want to be monotheist, it does not matter if you are Jewish, Christian, or Muslim—they are all ultimately close enough. Maybe people coming out of a tradition of Judaism and Christianity are attracted to a Yahwistic polytheism or henotheism. Otherwise, perhaps people DO want to do this. If so, it is up to them. On the other hand, if this empties out the religious interest in ancient Israel (although I am not sure it does), it still does not dismiss the historical inquiry and interest. But, recall, he is using Gnuse more for his application of historical paradigms in current theological paradigms; it does not mean that if those theological paradigms are difficult to follow or contradict one’s own commitments that the historical paradigm is not the best we have at the moment.

Ultimately, Bauckham is right that "consensuses" come and go. It is not enough just to say something is or is not agreeing with the consensus view; one should engage the argument on its own merits. On the other hand, dismissing the consensus view based upon one proponent's (inept) dismissal of a non-consensus view and not engaging that view at its most persuasive and influential diminishes Bauckham's critique of it.

Bauckham's "Jesus and the God of Israel," 2A (OT, Deuteronomy, and Monotheism)

I just turned in a chapter of my dissertation for critique, am about to take a break in a few days, so am using the next few days to catch up on my review of Bauckham (I have also picked up McGrath's book, so expect a post or two on that soon as well).

To see my reading of his introduction and first chapter, just click on the tags that say "Richard Bauckham" or "Jesus and the God of Israel" to take you back.

Now we turn to chapter two, which, again, will take a few postings. Chapter 1 was about 60 pages and this one is about 40. Chapter 3, thank god, is only about 20. And he is starting to become repetitive, so I do not need to rehearse everything he does. So, in short, I am hoping my readings will become shorter (or the posts per chapter fewer).

Chapter 2 is called "Biblical Theology and the Problems of Monotheism"
As the title indicates, this is the most explicitly theologically patent chapter. Current theological applications of historical and literary studies of antiquity is generally a move I agree with (current theological positions should be informed by current debates on the ancient sources), but one that in a scholarly vein is one of the least of my concerns except when it provides the parameters of what is an acceptable historical argument. There are times in this chapter when Bauckham appears to dismiss a scholarly reconstruction of ancient Israelite worship or Hebrew Bible criticism because it is not theologically palatable to him. This I find completely unacceptable.

He notes how contextual studies that incorporate analogues in the Ancient Near East challenge “any traditional reading of the Old Testament’s own telling of Israel’s story.” He questions any ability to do this. It seems ipso facto that the Old Testament’s own narrative should be privileged to any scholarly reconstructions based upon all of the available contextual data from the ancient Near East. He also will dismiss any attempts of reading the biblical evidence against the grain (these are my words, not his). Just following the biblical narrative itself and dismissing current scholarly reconstructions that do not agree with it strike me as an uncritical or precritical, if not naïve in accepting the biblical books' perspective (whether or not recognizing that it might be a minority position, skewed, etc.), although rhetorically impressive. In this, he forgets that the historian's first question is "cui bono?" Who benefits from the portrayal of God in these books in this way? For D, it is the Jerusalemite elite to the exclusion of even dedicated Yahwist shrines elsewhere throughout Israel, not to mention the mass evidence of the worship of YHWH with a consort. As such, we should be suspicious of the ancient texts' narratives and not just go along with their narrative. He will accomplish his rhetorically impressive uncritical reading of ancient evidence (and overly and punctiliously critical reading of modern scholarship) in three ways: 1. he primarily engages secondary scholarship—this chapter reads like an extended book review on a couple scholars whose arguments he criticizes as hypothetical or speculative because they don’t just go along with the tale spun by the ancient authors (and actually engage in critical scholarship!) Here, however, he does not necessarily engage with the most representative, influential, or persuasive scholars of a position, which weakens, I think, the persuasiveness of his critique; 2. by barely engaging the ancient sources themselves (which is extremely disappointing); and 3. engaging in canonical criticism (speculating on what unites all of the sources, how they are read in light of one another) instead of engaging the peculiarities of individual texts, with the result of normalizing non-monotheistic texts into a monotheistic understanding or a "monotheizing dynamic." He may be right, in fact, that this is how later Jews read these texts, but not correct that these readings constitute the earliest understandings of the texts. The result of this is that he engages in the scholarly reconstruction of ancient Israelite beliefs, challenging the emergent consensus of basically a polytheistic or perhaps henotheistic context in which exclusive Yahwism was a minor or perhaps only existing movement in the late pre-exilic, exilic, or early post-exilic period and then he jumps to the canonical selection and editing process, skipping the middle (the texts themselves!!!). His ultimate purpose is to try to think of “monotheism” as a “pan-biblical” issue, not limited to either testament.

He recognizes that “monotheism” can be a potentially misleading word if we are not precise on how we define the term, noting that the term, like “polytheism” is a modern, mostly Enlightenment, construct that, in its modern formulation, may not be appropriate for ancient evidence. He does acknowledge the current conversation of whether monotheism is harmful, oppressive, and inherently violent, but brackets the issue.

In the first part of extended book reviews, he engages Nathan MacDonald’s Deuteronomy and the Meaning of Monotheism, a revised version of his Durham doctoral dissertation. MacDonald argues that monotheism and polytheism are Enlightenment concepts that are misleading and inappropriate for discussions of antiquity, particularly the reading of the Hebrew Bible (most specifically Deuteronomy). He traces its usage from the seventeenth-century Cambridge Platonists, who used it to intellectualize religion as a body of theoretical knowledge prioritizing the number of gods in order to classify religions, to Enlightenment Deists, who used it as part of a progressivist model of the development of a rational, ethical, and universalist religion. This model looked back to “emergent monotheism” of ancient Israel, projecting Enlightenment values onto ancient texts. MacDonald shows how this model has skewed biblical scholarship from Wellhausen onward (with an exception given to von Rad, who differentiated between ancient and modern monotheisms). MacDonald suggests, according to Bauckham, that any transcendent view of God is an Enlightenment projection, whereas Bauckham views transcendence as part and parcel of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—a completely pre-modern articulation. Bauckham agrees, however, that developmental, progressivist, and more recently, evolutionary models are impositions on the ancient evidence. He cites the archaeological evidence of polytheistic worship (particularly of Asherah) in the pre-exilic period (something difficult to deny)—thus, dashing any concept of “irreversibility”; even after people became monotheists or at least exclusive Yahwists, they may still shade into polytheistic or henotheistic tendencies.

MacDonald argues that monotheism obfuscates as much as it enlightens with regard to Deuteronomy. (1) D does not deny the existence of other gods: Shema and first commandment require monolatry, but do not deny existence of other gods. They may even presuppose other gods’ existence in treating them as competitors for Israel’s devotion. M. dismisses that D teaches that YHWH is the only god. Interestingly, he also notes a differentiation between the word for god with an article and without: when Deut. 4:35 and 39 uses the definite article, it denotes a uniqueness of YHWH as the god (the only god who is the god is YHWH). (2) Lack of intellectualization of religion in D. D emphasizes love expressed in devotion and worship. Any truth-claims are tied to relational devotion. (3) This is exemplified in the Shema, which is not an intellectual assent, but a requirement of obedience and devotion. It does not emphasize universal ethical values, but specific acts of devotion. (4) D presumes that this devotion is difficult, and, thus, lays out “disciplines of remembrance.” This contrasts with Enlightenment view of irreversibility of progress that has affected many reconstructions of ancient Israel. (5) Contrast between Enlightenment universalism (which is in contrast to particularism) and D’s election. For Enlightenment, true monotheism needed God to be free from any particular affiliation (something affecting NT scholarship as well, particularly on Paul); by contrast, YHWH’s uniqueness is inseparable from election of Israel. How nations respond to Israel will affect their standing with YHWH.

B. only disagrees with (1)—not surprisingly. The rest, he thinks, are applicable to the entire Hebrew Bible (with qualifications for Genesis and Wisdom literature, presumably because they do have a more universalistic outlook). B. claims that MacDonald fails to systematically handle YHWH’s uniqueness vis-à-vis other gods: “Given that Deuteronomy affirms the uniqueness of YHWH (as alone God [4:35, 39; 7:9] and as along ‘god of gods’ [10:17]) without denying the existence of the other gods, in what does that uniqueness consist? (65)” I would note that his summary of MacDonald has already answered that question—the uniqueness consists in the unique relationship with Israel expressed in a theology of covenant.

B goes on to criticize MacDonald’s use of an adverb “primarily,” which I laughed at because I find B’s own uses of adverbs highly annoying and inaccurate. B. questions whether YHWH’s uniqueness consists in “nothing more” than covenant? Now it is my turn. Nothing more! What do you mean by “nothing more”? Surely you would not dismiss such monumental and thoroughgoing importance of the covenant! In truth, B does not really dismiss it, but does not fully gauge its importance either. For him, it seems to be “nothing more” than a vehicle to demonstrate God’s deity as creator and sovereign (something, in fact, I would think is a secondary role to the covenanted relationship, at least in D): “Given that Israel can recognize YHWH’s uniqueness only for what YHWH does for Israel, it does not follow that this uniqueness cannot include what YHWH objectively is, even independently of Israel” (67-8). I would qualify his statements here (because I am not a theologian) that YHWH isn’t anything outside of the collective imagination of ancient Israelites. I would rephrase that in D’s literary construction of the covenanted relationship there is also an conception of God beyond that relationship. NOTA BENE: B has suspiciously dropped his divine identity language and has slipped into ontological language, trying to determine WHAT God is rather than WHO, something he indicated in his first chapter was an anachronistic move. I wonder if shifting to WHO would force him to agree with MacDonald at least for D? Maybe not, but I am highly suspicious.

To get a sense of this, B points to 4:39, 10:14, 17, and 32:39. In one of the few moments of actual engagement with an ancient Israelite/Jewish text, he engages with MacDonald’s exegesis of Deut. 4:32-40. He notes that vv. 35 and 39 are climactic pronouncements that indicates YHWH’s uniqueness as god, or “the god,” through his actions with Israel. These passages not only express Gods saving actions for Israel and for them to acknowledge him as God (as with MacDonald), but also his supreme power (Bauckham). The phrasing that he is God in heaven above and on earth below indicate not just his presence (as MacDonald claims) but his power in those places (Bauckham).

“What makes YHWH, by comparison with the gods of the nations, ‘the God’ (or ‘god of gods and lord of lords, the great god’ as 10:187 puts it) is his unrivalled power. This, although it is only in what he does for Israel that Israel recognizes YHWH to be ‘the God,” this status is not only what he is in relation to Israel, but what he is in any case, and, particularly, in relation to the other gods.”

While delineating YHWH’s relationship to other gods as bound up with God’s relationship to Israel, again B slips into the ontological “what.” Ultimately, however, this is an imperial model of divinity: one supreme God who rules over other Gods who in turn rule over their respective nations. Israel gets the emperor.

He further argues that the whole “there is no other” phrasing indicates that while there are other gods, only YHWH is God, or the God. This, then, does not deny the existence of other gods, but God is unique and uniquely powerful in God’s relation with Israel and with the other Gods. I am strangely agreeing with B at this point. I just cannot believe he considers this monotheism.

Other gods are impotent nonentities, they are “non-gods” (32:7, 21) or “mere puffs of air” (32:21)—ok, perhaps a bit more monotheizing.

In sum, Bauckham notes that there is an “ontological division” between the old category “gods” that YHWH appears in a class of his own.

So, in this section, in order to maintain his monotheism, Bauckham has actually backed away from his central insight of “identity” theology and slipped into ontological categories that he has deemed anachronistic impositions elsewhere. I do agree with much of his specific analysis. Bauckham seems at his best (or most interesting) when he engages primary documents rather than secondary sources. He is at his least persuasive in his secondary reflections and larger model-building based upon these exegeses (here just one passage). He has shown that D saw its God as most powerful, but this is just like so many other ancient near eastern devotees saw their particular god as most powerful and even as creator and sovereign of all things (B does address this later in the chapter).

Monday, June 22, 2009

To the Ionian Gods

Song of Ionia

Because we smashed their statues all to pieces,
because we chased them from their temples--
this hardly means the gods have died.
O land of Ionia, they love you still,
it's you whom their souls remember still.
And as an August morning's light breaks over you
your atmosphere grows vivid with their living.
And occasionally an ethereal ephebe's form,
indeterminate, stepping swiftly,
makes its way along your crested hills.

(C.P. Cavafy; trans. Mendelsohn)

The Destination and the Journey

I love this following poem by C.P. Cavafy on prolonging the journey. Although the destination is inevitable, "destined" in fact, it is the road that gives the riches and wisdom of experiences; so, let's hope it is LONG road.


As you set out on the way to Ithaca
hope that the road is a long one,
filled with adventures, filled with discoveries.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
Poseidon in his anger: do not fear them,
you won't find such things on your way
so long as your thoughts remain lofty, and a choice
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
savage Poseidon; you won't encounter them
unless you stow them away inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up before you.

Hope that the road is a long one.
Many may the summer mornings be
when--with what pleasure, with what joy--
you first put in to harbors new to your eyes;
may you stop at Phoenician trading posts
and there acquire the finest wares:
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and heady perfumes of every kind:
as many heady perfumes as you can.
Many Egyptian cities may you visit
that you may learn, and go on learning, from their sages.

Always in your mind keep Ithaca.
To arrive there is your destiny.
But do not hurry your trip in any way.
Better that it last for many years;
that you drop anchor at the island an old man,
rich with all you've gotten on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave you the beautiful journey;
without her you wouldn't have set upon the road.
But now she has nothing left to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca didn't deceive you.
As wise as you will have become, with so much experience,
you will understand, by then, these Ithacas; what they mean.

(trans. Daniel Mendelsohn)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Mortals, Gods, and the Wise

I just started reading the collected poems by C.P. Cavafy, and they are fantastic! I like his tendency to refer to events, people, texts outside of the normative historical narrative. So this Greek poet tends to prefer the Hellenistic and Byzantine periods to the classical. He tends to refer to the Greek world in Syria, Asia Minor, and Alexandria (his own birthplace) more so than Athens. The following is a poem he wrote inspired by Philostratus's Life of Apollonius of Tyana (particularly 8.7).

But Wise Men Apprehend What is Imminent

Mortal men perceive things as they happen.
What lies in the future the gods perceive,
full and sole possessors of all enlightenment.
Of all the future holds, wise men apprehend
what is imminent. Their hearing,

sometimes, in moments of complete
absorption in their studies, is disturbed. The secret call
of events that are about to happen reaches them.
And they listen to it reverently. While in the street
outside, the people hear nothing at all.

(trans. Daniel Mendolsohn)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Why Gilgamesh?

There seems to be a great deal of activity regarding Gilgamesh lately. In the past couple of days, my old postings on Gilgamesh, mostly this one, have received more than typical hits. None of them are referred from a single source, but are all google searches.

Is there something recent in the news that might explain a spike in interest in Gilgamesh?

On a similar subject, I have been thinking about writing a post laying out the similarities I have seen between the Epic of Gilgamesh and Ecclesiastes, but that must await another day.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Boundless World of Literature

Science (and cultural consciousness) of the nineteenth century singled out only a miniature world (and we have narrowed it even more) from the boundless world of literature. This miniature world included almost nothing from the East. The world of culture and literature is essentially as boundless as the universe. We are speaking not about its geographical breadth (this is limited), but about its semantic depths, which are as bottomless as the depths of matter. The infinite diversity of interpretations, images, figurative semantic combinations, materials and their interpretations, and so forth. We have narrowed it terribly by selecting and by modernizing what we have selected. We impoverish the past and do not enrich ourselves. We are suffocating in the captivity of narrow and homogeneous interpretations.

The main lines of the development of literature that have prepared one writer or another, one work or another, throughout the centuries (and in various nations). But we know only the writer, his world view, and his times. Eugene Onegin was created during the course of seven years. But the way was being prepared for it and it was becoming possible through hundreds (and perhaps thousands) of years. Such great realities of literature as genres are completely underestimated.

(M.M. Bakhtin, "From Notes Made in 1970-71," in Speech Genres and Other Late Essays)

One of the things I appreciate about Bakhtin is his facility with literature off the beaten path to delineate such millennia of preparation (e.g., his preference for Hellenistic rather than Classical Greek literature), the ease with which he moves from "canonical" to "non-canonical" works. His breadth and depth of knowledge of wide ranges of literatures puts most of us to shame.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Trialogic Speech

One of Bakhtin's most distinctive features as a thinker is the notion of "dialogism," and yet, he would point out, this is not quite right, for speech is more like "trialogism" between the speaker, the listener, and those who have used these speech patterns before, that have formed the ways of speaking:

The word (or in general any sign) is interindividual. Everything that is said, expressed, is located outside the "soul" of the speaker and does not belong only to him. The word cannot be assigned to a single speaker. The author (speaker) has his own inalienable right to the word, but the listener also has his rights, and those whose voices are heard in the word before the author comes upon it also have their rights (after all there are no words that belong to no one). The word is a drama in which three characters participate (it is not a duet, but a trio). It is performed outside the author, and it cannot be introjected into the author.
(M.M. Bakhtin, "The Problem of the Text" in Speech Genres and Other Late Essays)

I like that word: "inderindividual." I should note that this particular essay remains as notes and not fully fleshed out. Yet this concept can be found throughout Bakhtin's works: speech is something between three. A speaker speaks, but the speech is not "monologic" because the speaker anticipates a response. This anticipation affects the speech itself and what "speech genre" will be used in the "utterance" (see the "Problem of Speech Genres" in the same volume). This makes the listener an active participant. The listener listens, to be sure, but waits to respond, and, thus, becomes the speaker. But, again, this is not a duo, but a trio. Others have already modeled and molded the speech patterns, the types of speech to be used on a particular occasion to elicit a particular response (the speech genre). Words belong to no one, or, better yet, belong to everyone. So, when speaking, it is not just "ich und du," but within this dialogue, the "tertium quid" is all the previous usages heard in the speech, whether deliberate or not. This is obvious in quotation. In fact, when Bakhtin places "soul" in quotation marks, he marks it as a foreign term in his speech. But it can also be elusive allusion or purely a non-conscious summoning of voices past.

Poetics of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice (Song 12)

The following is the opening to the twelfth Sabbath Song in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice. It is rarely noted, although occasionally is, how poetic these Songs can be at times. In fact, in my dissertation where I discuss this, I do not have time to discuss its poetics either. Perhaps these can be some preliminary observations for a later project. The passage is most notable for the difficulty in finding the beginnings and ends to phrases, but I think following the parallelism provides some clues. For now, I am going to forego discussing the obvious connections with Ezekiel 1.

For the Sa[ge. The song of the sacrifice (עולת)] of the twelfth sabbath on the twenty-first of the third month.

Praise the God of wond[rous years (?)]
and exalt him according to the glory in the tabernacle
[of the God/s of] knowledge ([הכבוד במשכ[ן אלוהי] דעת]).

The [cheru]bim fall before him and they b[le]ss.
When they raise themselves,
a quiet voice of God (קול דממת אלוהים) [is heard]
and tumult of chanting;
at the rising of their wings,
a voice of q[uiet] of God (קול[ דממ]ת אלוהים).

They are blessing a structure of a throne-chariot (תבנית כסא מרכבה מברכים)
above the firmament of the cherubim (ממעל לרקיע הכרובים).
[And] they chant the [the splend]or of the firmament of light
from beneath his glorious seat, (מושב כבודו).

And when the ophannim go,
the angels of holiness return.
They go out from between his wheels of glory.

Like the appearance of fire are most holy spirits.
Surrounding is an appearance of streams of fire
in a likeness of hashmal, and workmanship of brightness (ומעשי [נ]וגה)
with multicolored glory, wondrously dyed, purely salted.
(ברוקמת כבוד צבעי פלא ממולח טוה)

Spirits of living gods constantly go about
with the glory of the wondrous chariots.
And a quiet voice of blessing is with the tumult of their going,
and they praise with holiness in the returning of their ways.
When they raise themselves they exalt wondrously.
And when they settle they stand.
A voice of joyous chanting grows silent
and the quiet of a blessing of God is in all the camps of the gods
And a voice of praises …. from beneath the[ir] divisions on [their] sides…
and all their mustered troops chant, each in his station.
(4Q405 20 ii-21-22:6-14 + 11QShirShabb 3-4)

As the layout suggests, this Song is full of extensive parallelism and balanced phrasing. After the framing image of the "the glory in the tabernacle" (cf. Exod. 24:16-17; 40:34-5; 1 Kings 8:10-11; 2 Chron. 5:13-14; 2 Chron. 7:1; Ezek. 43:4-5; 44:4; cf. Ps. 26:8), the Song has parallels between the rising of the cherubim and the raising of their wings, each followed by the quiet voice of God in paradoxical juxtaposition to tumult.

The next section is even more complicated, in which blessing the "structure of the throne-chariot" parallels chanting the firmament of light, placed seemingly oppositionally above and below. Above cherubim and below the the glorious seat (which is the throne-chariot, bringing the first and fourth phrases together) is the same space. These lines are even more complex. The throne-chariot in the first line mirrors the glorious seat in the fourth line, and the firmament in the second and third lines bring these lines together, creating an overall chiastic pattern layed over the parallelism. This section even has wordplay, where מברכים is delayed in the line to mirror הכרובים, using, for the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, a fairly rare participle and an equally rare definite article to create the same rhythm.

The next section returns to the "movement" language found earlier, with going, returning, and going out (again). The parallelism here is not only between verbs of going, but between ophannim and wheels, both designations of the "wheels" of the throne-chariot.

The subsequent section shifts from the wheels to fiery holy spirits, where there is a more obvious parallelism between "appearance of fire" and "appearance of streams of fire." This is all clearly Ezekiel imagery, made clearer by the "hashmal" of the subsequent line. The final line, however, brings in imagery from the Tabernacle: "multicolored" like the tabernacle's cloths and "purely salted" (see. Exod. 30:35).

The final lines are not as tightly composed, but contain a great deal of resonance with Shavuot liturgies that combine Psalm 68 and Ezekiel 1. It repeats a great deal of the imagery already seen of going and returning, raising and settling, silence/quiet voices and tumultuous praising.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My Five Books Meme

I have been tagged by Daniel and Tonya at Hebrew and Greek Reader. In this meme, I will give the five books or authors who have shaped my thought the most, whether I like them or not, whether through agreement or opposition, etc. And they can be enduringly or immediately influential. This meme started not too long ago with Ken Brown at COrthodoxy. So, here are my five. For those who read my blog regularly, there probably will not be too many surprises.

1. M.M. Bakhtin. Most immediately, this Russian has profoundly influenced not only the way I approach my work--although he does that--but how I view day-to-day interactions. I was introduced to his thought through his essay on the "Chronotope" in the collected volume, The Dialogic Imagination. I use the Chronotope extensively in my dissertation. Since then, I have branched out to his other works and others' use of him. But even his concepts of the "utterance" from simple day-to-day speech-units to complex utterances of literary genres that interact dialogically is brilliant, see especially Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Or check out his reading of heteroglossia in Dostoevsky's works in The Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics. I think that is enough for now from Bakhtin, but I cannot get enough of his work! I think Dialogic Imagination is a good start if you aren't familiar with his work.

2. Erich Auerbach's Mimesis. This is one of the first books assigned to me in graduate school. I took a class on the history of interpretation of Genesis 22 with Alan Segal and David Carr, and Auerbach's opening chapter is the famous reading of "Odysseus' Scar." I don't think I realized it at the time and while I do not always agree with his interpretations, Auerbach's close attention to detail and astute reading not only in terms of content, but in terms of style has influenced my own reading habits. For you Dante fans out there, check out his Dante: Poet of the Secular World.

3. Michel de Montaigne's Essays. I have only come to Montaigne this past year, but I find him very refreshing. Again, I don't always agree with what he says, but more how he says it. He is a brilliant stylist. It is as if you are catching him in the moment of thinking, even though he revised and polished his essays over and over again. I like his concept of the imagination, and the role of the imagination in the fashioning of the self, in a self that lives insistently and creatively in the present. Reading him is a whole experience in itself. I also get this same group of feelings--reading as an entire experience, catching one in the moment of thinking, etc.--when I read Walter Benjamin.

4. Although it may sound cheesy or prosaic, Shakespeare's Hamlet. Although it is not my favorite work today (Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov is), I was never really interested in literature until I read it in high school. None of the other plays I had read until then--Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, etc.--had every caught my interest. After reading (I think the Dover thrift edition of it), I developed a much keener interest in literature. It was at that point when I realized what amazing things could be done in the English language. I am so glad I get to teach King Lear for my literature class these days. In fact, this weekend I plan to see a free production of The Tempest.

5. I am having difficult coming up with a fifth book or author. As I look over the books that line the walls in my itty bitty apartment, I find many that I find wonderful, insightful, impressive, inspiring, and even of shaping importance for my research, but nothing really on the level of the four mentioned. And I fear I would just add something to fill out the meme and it would not be something or someone truly influential for me. And so until the time comes when I find something of the caliber of importance of the other four, I will leave the fifth slot vacant for Elijah.

Ok. Those are my five (or nearly so). You probably will notice not a single author or book within my own field of study. I always find the greatest influences for my thought and how I approach ancient Jewish and Christian literature derive from those in completely different fields. There is a certain cross-fertilization of knowledge that I find the most helpful or insightful in approaching these ancient texts anew.

I hereby tag: James McGrath, Ken Schenk, April DeConick, Justin Dombrowsky (It will give him an excuse to blog on something), and Liam (for a medievalist's perspective).

Book Meme Deferred

I just realized I had been tagged for a book meme by Daniel and Tonya at Hebrew and Greek Reader. I am supposed to think up the five most enduring or immediately influential books or authors (not necessarily the ones I like the best, but the ones who have shaped my thought through engagement, even through opposition--perhaps often the most important ingredient). I have a few who come to mind immediately, but this is going to be difficult. For a full list or review, I believe I will have to ruminate at least another day or so. If I fail to remember, please, Dan or Tonya, feel free to remind me.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Quote of the Day: The Tempest

Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell.
(Shakespeare, The Tempest 1.2)

James McGrath: The Only True God

I just received in the mail a copy of James McGrath's new book, The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context, sent to me from the University of Illinois Press.

Given that I have been reading and reviewing Bauckham's book on a very similar subject, I probably should give some time to this work as well.

I would like to thank James for keeping this book short! Something I am not very good about in my own writing. Text, notes, bibliography, and index are all only 155 pp. Only 104 pages of text! So, it looks like a much quicker read that Bauckham.

I'm sure most of you read McGrath's blog already and are quite up-to-date about this book. But I will just point out its general layout and leave reading and reviewing to a future time when I have more time.

His first chapter focuses on the issue of method and scholarly study of ancient Jewish and Christian perspectives on the divine. It seems at first glancing that he lays out a typology of monotheisms. I hope it will lay out something a bit more systematic than I have seen in my other readings.

The second chapter looks like it turns a bit more to the ancient Jewish sources themselves, looking at the issue of worship (monolatry?). His preface indicates that Hurtado's very extensive study came out when this volume was nearly finished, so it has more limited engagement with it than perhaps it should due to the vagaries of publication speed.

The next three chapters look to the conceptions of God in Paul (chapter 3), John (chapter 4) and Revelation (chapter 5), which are the authors preferred, one might note, by Bauckham as well. I get the sense that this book is a partial response to Bauckham?

The final chapter moves to the Two Powers Heresy and its role in the so-called Parting of the Ways. I have a feeling I will see a great deal of engagement here with my own advisor's, Alan Segal, work on Two Powers in Heaven and perhaps a bit on the recent fascination with the "parting of the ways" and whether or not this is a good model for late antique Jewish-Christian interactions. That is what I would expect, anyway, with my very limited first brush.

I hope to have fuller engagement with the book in the near future, but cannot predict when at the moment.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Scaly Complexity

The serpent sets the tone--seductive but also rousing. In none of its appearances is its image simple. It bears poison within itself, but on the Aesculapian staff, healing. It is the dragon of the abyss, but, at another moment, the lightning high-above. And long after it is meant to have brought sorrow on our first parents, the sight of the serpent-idol held aloft heals the children of Israel from leprosy. Nor did it tell lies, as befitted the most cunning of all the beasts of the field, at least not in the most important point of its promise. For it promised Adam he would be like God; and when Yahweh saw him afterwards he said, "Behold, the man is become like one of us, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3.22). What sort of sin is that, wanting to be like God and to know good and evil? So far is it from being unambiguous, indeed from being sin at all, that countless pious people from that time on would most likely have taken unwillingness to be like God as the original sin, if this text had allowed it. Is not knowledge of good and evil the very same as becoming a man?--as leaving the garden of beasts, where Adam and Eve still belonged? .... But precisely in this passage, the most outstanding in the whole of the "underground" Bible, the glint of freedom is ill-concealed. And all the less concealable in that the forbidden fruit which opens men's eyes is not deadly nightshade, but the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and that tree "was to be desired to make one wise" (Gen. 3.6). Again and again in the underground Bible, the serpent stands for an underground movement which has light in its eyes, instead of hollow submissive slave-guilt.
(Ernst Bloch, Atheism in Christianity, 72-3)

From Joseph Smith to Security Systems

From NYTimes. I guess there are some transferable skills from religion to the private sector.

The salesmen are mostly former Mormon missionaries from Utah who cut their teeth — and learned their people-skill chops — cold-calling for their faith. In Chicago and in its suburbs where their employer, Pinnacle Security of Orem, Utah, has shipped them for the summer sales season, they are doing much the same thing, but as a job.

“It’s missionary work turned into a business,” said Cameron Treu, 30, who served his mission in Chile and was recruited into D2D (that is door-to-door in sales lingo) by another former missionary.

Managers at Pinnacle Security, founded in 2001 by a student at Brigham Young University, the Mormon Church-owned school, say missionaries simply have the right stuff. Many speak foreign languages learned in the mission field. All have thick skins from dealing with the negative responses that a missionary armed with a Book of Mormon and a smile can receive.

Mormon men are expected to serve a two-year mission in their early 20s, and about two-thirds of Pinnacle Security’s 1,800 sales representatives this summer have been through the experience. Former missionaries work for other direct-sales companies, too, though Pinnacle seems to be in a class by itself: It has deployed them in 75 cities nationwide.

“They’re used to knocking on doors, and they’re used to rejection,” said Scott Warner, Pinnacle’s manager of the Chicago sales team.


Business is only part of the chemistry though. In a free-market economy, every sale or purchase is on some level an act of conversion, a matter of overcoming objections or hesitancy and getting to “yes.” Decision making and trust are never entirely matters of pure logic.


Pinnacle’s salesmen are also applying skills learned in the mission field, like “mimic and mirror,” a technique of adapting one’s posture and bearing to the person being spoken to as a way of inducing trust — if his arms are crossed, you cross yours; if she tilts her head in asking a question, you do the same.

I can just hear Weber saying, "I told you so."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Scandal, the Deed, the Secret

Does the scandal lie in the deed, or in the revelation of the deed?
Who is asking the question?
My story is no scandal, nor is my book.
The scandal was in the secret.
But the secret is no longer.
(Salwa al Neimi, Proof of the Honey)

Arab Erotics: Salwa Al Neimi

I've been reading Salwa Al Neimi's Proof of the Honey. Al Neimi is an author living in France, but born in Damascus. Her book is edgy and controversial because it is an example of erotica written in Arabic, a nice break from my usual fare of scholarly tomes about ancient Judaism and Christianity. The very first lines jump off the page, inviting you to read further:

Some people conjure spirits. I conjure bodies. I have no knowledge of my soul or of the souls of others. I know only my body and theirs.

And I content myself with that.

I conjure them and I see myself with them once again--ephemeral travelers in an ephemeral body; they were never more than that.

It is not just about sex, although it is very much about sex, but freedom of sexual expression, language, and Arabic culture; especially how the configuration of these intersections shift from place to place and over time in very complicated ways reflected in the main character's life, her interaction with men and women, and her fascination with legacies of Arabic erotica. Perhaps the most controversially liberating aspect of it is that she cites and quotes Islamic authors from across the centuries to contemporary figures (even Khomeini) who have had very varying perspectives of sexual behavior.

It has been banned in many Arab countries (which is probably why I wanted to read it--an exercise in understanding desire in itself), and those in which it is not banned it became an instant best-seller (according to the front flap). She appears to have been prescient of this dynamic:

"All writers these days dream of having their books banned so they'll become famous" (46).

I leave with a final quotation on sexual jurisprudence:

The only innocents are those whose crimes have not yet been discovered.

Lounging in the Middle of Times Square

Weird, but I kind of think it is cool. It is fitting for the tackiness of Times Square in general.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bauckham's "Jesus and the God of Israel," Chapter 1D (Dis/Continuities)

I have finally reached the final segment in my review of Bauckham's first chapter of Jesus and the God of Israel. Only seven chapters to go....this is going to take forever to finish.

You can catch my riveting earlier segments here:
Chapter 1A (Monotheism)
Chapter 1B (Monotheistic Christology)
Chapter 1C (God Crucified)

Bauckham ends this chapter charting some consistencies and novelties from second temple Judaism to NT Christology as well as “evaluating” later theological traditions in light of his discoveries.

Bauckham finds considerable consistency in the characterization of God in terms of God being creator and sovereign, characteristics that distinguish God from all other reality (in my opinion, the true key to Bauckham’s “monotheism”). Bauckham recognizes that this is a minimal portrayal; other characteristics flesh out the character of God in God’s relationship to all creation and his relationship to Israel—such as God’s more particular interactions with Israel (in terms of covenant) with attendant characteristics of being slow to anger, love, and faithfulness (Exodus 34). Such a God would be expected to act in ways consistent with these identity traits as expressed broadly throughout the literature of the period, such as, for example, in Second Isaiah’s “new exodus” event with its universalizing tendencies—a combination that effectively brings together the covenantal aspects of God and God’s relationship to all reality. The early Christians, therefore, who thought they had experienced this new exodus (or used this new exodus to understand their experiences—this last bit is more my formulation, not Bauckham’s), produced a new narrative of God’s acts that becomes incorporated into the definition of God’s identity:

“Just as Israel identified God as the God who brought Israel out of Egypt and by telling the story of God’s history with Israel, so the New Testament identifies God as the God of Jesus Christ and by telling the story of Jesus as the story of the salvation of the world” (52)

Is this concept, of humiliation and exaltation within the identity of God, something radically new? Bauckham presents this as a consistency within inconsistency: God is the God of the unexpected and surprising—unpredictability is consistent with God’s characterization. Is it? Thus, the early Christian development of “God Crucified” may be radically novel, but not entirely out of the question. It is developed through an ongoing dialogue between “creative exegesis” and the early movement’s experiences (I think this part is quite right). This is best illustrated through the readings of Second Isaiah.

I particularly like Bauckham’s understanding of the mutual influence of interpretation and experience:

“The first Christians knew better than we do that some of the key insights they found in Deutero-Isaiah had not been seen in Deutero-Isaiah before. But the work of creative exegesis enabled them to find consistency in novelty. They appreciate the most radically new precisely in the process of understanding its continuity with the already revealed” (54).

The combination of humiliation and exaltation, of honor and shame, would have been the most remarkable and most questionable for a Second Temple perspective. Bauckham suggests that this is why the NT has such a preoccupation with the juxtaposition of these opposites, being sensitive to its novelty. But, Bauckham claims, it is not completely without precedent (Is. 57:15), which shows divine sympathy with those who are in the lowest of the low. The shift, however, is that in Isaiah, God sympathizes with; in the NT, he through Jesus sympathizes as. Bauckham concludes that this is unexpected, but not uncharacteristic; novel, but appropriate (55).

Similarly, Bauckham sees Exodus 33-34 as the antecedent for John 1 (both dealing with the Glory), but the unseen (or inability to see; cf. Exodus 24, however) from Exodus becomes the seen or revealed in John 1. The visible manifestation of the Glory becomes a manifestation of Glory within a human body. Again, the conclusion is novel but appropriate.

Bauckham has been saving an observation or corollary to his discussion until now:

“the inclusion of Jesus in the identity of God means the inclusion in God of the interpersonal relationship between Jesus and his Father” (55

Bauckham notes that there is nothing that contradicts the possibility of interpersonal relationships within the divine identity, but little if anything anticipates it. This, then, has to be radically new. I find this to be a weak point. Nothing contradicts it in earlier texts because such an idea never occurred to anyone in order to contradict it. Moreover, are these interpersonal relationships a NT preoccupation? Perhaps this implication is most sensitively felt in the Gospel of John, but, otherwise, something culled out by later theologians, yes?

Bauckham suggests that NT sources seem to be aware of such a novelty because of Matt. 28:19. This passage does have the novelty of Jesus as exalted and enthroned and even worshiped. The novelty Bauckham indicates is the formula of “in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” As such, Bauckham claims, God takes on new identities without dumping the old (just as he did in Exod. 3); in Christ, God demonstrates his deity to the world as the same God of Israel, but does so anew. I think he overemphasizes this proto-Trinitarian moment. Even if this indicates interpersonal relationships, it hardly speaks for the entire NT: it is one text! Perhaps Bauckham should recall his earlier methodological stance that one should establish broader patterns using the most sources possible and then move onto the “peripheral” ones (or aspects with little evidence). In fact, much of his NT discussion violates this rule: particularly his discussion of Jesus as preexistent creator.

Next, Bauckham moves into fairly dangerous territory of evaluating late Christological-theological developments. This section has an almost Protestant apologetic ring to it. This sounds problematic at the outset. I am not sure his role should be that of evaluation, but of reporting or reconstructing later Christological and Theological developments. He begins with NT to Nicene Orthodoxy (which, of course, excludes all those who were excluded in antiquity, which leads to ignoring a great many voices of early Christianity).

He evaluates continuity between the two based upon the idea of humiliation/exaltation identity. He is not evaluating an evolutionary development from embryonic ideas in the NT to fully-fleshed-out Nicene Trinitarian Theology because Jesus already was fully divine in the “Christology of Divine Identity.”

He claims that it was not Jewish, but Hellenistic philosophical categories that created problem for attributing divine identity to Jesus—it makes Jesus most naturally semi-divine in Hellenistic thought. Nicene theology, then, reworks Greek philosophy and reappropriates NT ideas of Jesus as unique divine identity into a new conceptual framework—it was a shift from identity to nature, from a who to a what.

At the same time, they were unsuccessful in appropriating the humiliation aspect; God as crucified is acknowledged but its implications were resisted. No sources are cited to back this claim. It would not be until Luther, Barth, etc., until it would be appreciated again.

Firstly, I am not sure this is true. It is hard to prove a negative such as this, but I wonder if the “acknowledged but resisted” moments show any less preoccupation than the NT itself! It would help if he cited his sources! Secondly, we should read the Fathers on their own terms and based upon their own interests, just as we do (or should) with earlier texts (such as the NT), not how well they fit our own reconstruction of NT Christology/Theology. Are not the Church Fathers also engaged in an ongoing interplay of creative exegesis of scripture (which now includes the NT itself) and their own experiences in ways that are both consistent and novel or novel in their consistency or consistent in their novelty? What is good for the goose is good for the gander, and I find his evaluation of different sets of sources (Second Temple, NT, and early church fathers, if you can call his dismissive one-paragraph statements on the church fathers a “reading”) to be inconsistent in approach.