Starting a New Blog

February 1, 2016

When I started this blog, I envisioned it as a supplement to my PhD research on the Gospel of Mark and I wanted to get back into the biblioblogging conversation. Actually, I realize I have been a biblioblogger since 2009! However, I now want to branch out by writing on subjects beyond the Gospel of Mark and also having a more accessible blog for students, pastors, and laypersons, one that avoids highly technical jargon and does not have a title in Koine Greek. :) Thus, I have a new blog called “The Apostles’ Memoirs” (https://jesusmemoirs.wordpress.com/). I will write on topics such as Second Temple Judaism, the New Testament, ancient Christian literature, Hebrew Bible, Religious Studies, Theology, or whatever I am interested in at the moment. Thank you to all who have followed the blog here and I hope you will continue to read my online musings at the new blog.


Book review on the Apostle Paul

December 16, 2015

Just to show that my interests extend beyond Mark, here is a review I wrote for H-Net Reviews (H-Judaic) of John G. Gager’s Who Made Early Christianity?: The Jewish Lives of the Apostle Paul (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015). I find the idea that Paul remained a Torah-observant Jew and that his belief that the eschatological pilgrimage of the nations had begun could account for why he is adamant that non-Jewish followers of the Messiah do not have to become proselytes to Judaism to be an attractive option. However, several texts in the Pauline Epistles still seem to me to resist a Sonderweg (special path) reading that Paul thought that only non-Jews were in need of Jesus’ vicarious death and resurrection. I recognize that not all of the representatives of the “Paul within Judaism” paradigm embrace the particular Sonderweg approach and that scholars such as Mark Nanos have offered alternative readings of the verses I highlight in the review as possibly implying that Paul no longer felt obligated to practice the Torah. The chief value of Gager’s study is its demonstration that there was a lengthy history of Jewish interpreters who did not view Paul as an apostate from the Torah and its extensive review of the interactions of Jews and Christians with each other and the wider society in the antique and Medieval periods.


SBL Paper on Markan Christology Outline

October 28, 2015

I am excited to see everyone at the upcoming SBL/AAR in Atlanta. I plan to catch sessions such as the “Q” scholars responding to Francis Watson’s book, the competing reconstructions of Marcion’s Gospel, the question of ethnicity in Luke-Acts, the review of the Paul Within Judaism book, and, of course, all of the free receptions. :) As for my own session, I posted the abstracts for my session on Markan Christology and the papers have been distributed in advance to members of the Mark seminar. Here is my paper’s outline:

Introduction:

  • Adolf von Harnack on adoptionistic or pneumatic verging on docetic Christologies. The “low” vs “high” Christology classification system.
  • Michael Peppard on how adoption may be the means by which imperial power was transferred to the supreme benefactor of the Empire. Bart Ehrman writes, ‘[E]ven though later theologians came to consider a “low” or “adoptionist” Christology to be inadequate, I do not think we should overlook just how amazing this view was for the people who first held it… he had actually been elevated to a position next to God Almighty who had made all things and would be the judge of all people.’ (How Jesus Became God, 231).
  • The reception of Mark among different audiences (cf. Adela Collins, Peppard), both a 1st century audience familiar with messianic exegesis as well as the imperial cult and a 2nd century audience engaged in changed Christological controversies.

Mark in the 1st Century

  • Early High Christology Club? A divine Christology or dyadic devotional pattern may have quickly emerged as evident in pre-Pauline fragments, but there is a risk of treating NT textual representations of Christian beliefs/practices as monolithic and trying to recover the original “essence” of “Christianity” before the “fall” into discord (e.g. Richard Bauckham writes “the highest possible Christology – the inclusion of Jesus in the unique divine identity – was central to the faith of the early church even before any of the New Testament writings were written, since it occurs in all of them” [God of Israel, p. 19], apologetic or counter-apologetic works assuming the legitimacy of Christian confessions depends on their roots in the historical Jesus). Added note: the theological validity of the Nicene-Constantinople creed does not depend on how long it took to formulate the conceptual or ontological categories.
  • At the baptism, Jesus is anointed or elected to his messianic office and possibly to his task as the Isaianic servant (Donald Juel’s Messianic Exegesis; Joel Marcus, The Way of the Lord).
  • The biblical background to the baptism and transfiguration should not be underestimated (scriptural allusions to Ps 2:7/Isa 43:1/MT Isa 63:19,  bath qol, echoes of Sinai and Moses/Elijah in the latter scene), but Peppard complements this analysis via his study of Roman adoption contracts and bird omens before a victory or imperial ascension (Seutonius, Aug. 94; 96; Claud. 7; Dom. 6). Jesus was the recipient of the baptism vision, while the transfiguration was for the benefit of witnesses (cf. Peppard’s comitia curiata or “representative assembly” confirming Roman adoptions).
  • Mark’s Gospel does not imply pre-existence (cf. James Dunn and Adela Collin’s rebuttal of Simon Gathercole’s thesis on the Synoptic “I have come” sayings) and other Markan texts that could be read as divine “epiphanies” can be interpreted differently.
    • Jesus’ power over the sea may either echo Moses’ miracles (cf. Philo, Life of Moses 1.55-58) or Yahweh’s power to trample the sea (cf. Job 9:8), but a possible compromise position is that Yahweh has extended his power over the Sea to the Davidic king (cf. Daniel Kirk and Stephen L. Young’s JBL article). Scholars find echoes of Moses (cf. Marcus), the Son of Man (Rudolf Pesch), and Hellenistic epiphany stories (cf. Candida Moss, Simon S. Lee) among other interpretive options in the transfiguration, but the framing of this event between an eschatological saying and a resurrection appearance indicates that it is a proleptic vision of Jesus’ future appearance like the glorified saints when the kingdom arrives “in power” (cf. Dunn).
  • Davidic king: Peter’s confession of the “Christ” or Bartimaeus’s plea to the “son of David” is at least partially correct (cf. the two-stage healing of the blind person), but it has to be complemented by an understanding of Jesus’ way of the cross (cf. Ernest Best). Jesus does not deny his Davidic sonship in Mark 12:35-37, but redefines it in light of his lordship in heaven and, therefore, resolves a potential scriptural contradiction (cf. Juel).
  • Colonial mimicry and Jesus as rival-emperor (e.g. Tae Hun Kim, Craig Evans on the title “son of God” and the Priene inscription).

Mark in the Late-First and the Second Century

  • Matthean and Lukan redaction (e.g. infancy narratives, omissions of Mark 5:31/7:32-35/8:23-26/13:32, editorial tweaks in Mark 6:5-6/Matt 13:58 or Mark 10:17-18/Matt 19:16-17a).
  • Various 2nd century Christian groups (e.g. Cerinthians, Ebionites, Marcosians, Carpocratians, and Orphite Gnostics according to Irenaeus’s Adv. Haer. 1.15.3; 1.25.1; 1.26.1-2; 1.30.4-6) entertained the idea that the “Christ” was a divine being who possessed the human Jesus at the baptism and abandoned him at the cross. This could be called a “possessionist Christology” (cf. Michael Goulder, April DeConick) or a “separationist Christology” (cf. Ehrman). According to Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3.11.7, those who separate Jesus from the Christ and deny that the Christ could suffer preferred Mark’s narrative, probably because it commenced at the baptism and recorded Jesus’ feeling of divine abandonment on the cross (cf. Against Heresies 1.8.2 following the wording of Mark 15:34 instead of Matt 27:46).
  • Possible scribal corrections at Mark 1:1, 1:10, and 15:34 to counter-act a reading of Mark through the lens of a possessionist/separationist Christology (cf. Ehrman).
  • The “centrist” or “proto-Orthodox” church defends Mark’s theological merits by claiming it in the name of the Apostle Peter and reading it as part of the fourfold Gospel canon. Potentially difficult Christological passages in Mark can be explained by cross-referencing it with other authorized Gospels. Francis Watson writes, ‘[T]he fourfold gospel may itself be seen as an act of gospel production, marking the defining moment in the reception-history of the individual texts it contains while also establishing a new, composite text which generates a more comprehensive reception-history of its own’ (Gospel Writing, 7).

 


A Blog Notice of my Book

October 9, 2015

A German blog under the name Kata Markon has written a post that highlights my book The Gospel on the Margins: The Reception of Mark in the Second Century and surveys some of the external references to Mark in the New Testament and early Patristic literature. The blogger, Kunigunde Kreuzerin, has included a number of other helpful links on the text of Mark as well as a page on other books or articles available online. Students of the Gospel of Mark should check out this blog.


St. Andrews Symposium for Biblical and Early Christian Studies

October 3, 2015

I received an email asking me if I could call people’s attention to the St. Andrews Symposium for Biblical and Early Christian Studies on June 6-8, 2016 and addressing the topic Son of God: Divine Sonship in Jewish and Christian Antiquity. This looks like an excellent conference and will cover what divine sonship means in the Hebrew Bible, Septuagint, Dead Sea Scrolls, Pseudepigrapha, New Testament, Rabbinic Judaism, and early Christianity. It has lined up a list of top scholars including Menahem Kister (Hebrew University), Reinhard Kratz (Göttingen), Jan Joosten (University of Oxford), Philip Alexander (University of Manchester), George Brooke (University of Manchester), Richard Bauckham (University of Cambridge), Michael Peppard (Fordham University), Matthew Novenson (University of Edinburgh), N. T. Wright (University of St Andrews), William Tooman (University of St Andrews), Madhavi Nevader (University of St Andrews), and David Moffitt (University of St Andrews).

Moreover, they have issued a call for papers from faculty and postgraduates on the following related subjects: ancient Israelite religion, angelology or heavenly mediators, royal ideologies, political ideologies in the Second Temple period, corporate sonship, messianism, Christology, ancient scriptural interpretation, early mystical traditions, and other related topics. If you are interested, send an abstract of around 250 words to ps343@st-andrews.ac.uk (Paul Sloan, PhD candidate) to be considered by February 15, 2016. See http://standrewssymposium.blogspot.co.uk/ for more information. Registration for the symposium will be open on December 1, 2015 and will close on May 1, 2016. You will be able to register at https://onlineshop.st-andrews.ac.uk/ and there is an early-bird fee at £50 until March 1, 2016 (£75 thereafter).

St. Andrews is a beautiful town and I enjoyed the chance to visit when they hosted an international SBL. I would love to attend the conference, or even submit a proposal on this topic, though my schedule is a little uncertain as I am currently an adjunct lecturer in Canada. However, I have written some thoughts on the term “Son of God” for a lay Christian audience at the blog Bible Study and the Christian Life and I think Mark has Jewish messianism and royal ideologies in the background when affirming Jesus as God’s son. Other New Testament authors may develop divine sonship in other directions, such as portraying the pre-existent sending of the Son of God from heaven to earth.


Introducing New Testament Textual Criticism

September 30, 2015

This is part of my handouts for undergraduate students

Introducing New Testament Textual Criticism

Textual Criticism: critically examining and comparing the New Testament manuscript witnesses to try to determine the earliest reading of a text on the basis of external and internal evidence.

External Evidence:

  • None of the original manuscripts or “autographs” survived.
  • There are over 5800 Greek manuscripts that are extant and catalogued. The oldest Greek fragmentary texts date from the second and third centuries CE, while the first complete copies of the New Testament are in the Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus in the fourth century.
  • The NT texts were copied on papyrus or vellum and bound together in codices (note: the Christian use of the codex to preserve their sacred texts, as opposed to the general use of scrolls for refined literary works, paved the way for the book format). The earliest Greek manuscripts are on papyri, followed by “uncials” (a type of Greek script in all capitals and written on parchment), “minuscules” (a type of Greek cursive script), and “lectionaries” (church readings for catechetical purposes). There is further evidence in the “versions” translated in different language and in Christian citations of NT writings in the Patristic period.
  • Hypothetical Textual Families: the Alexandrian, Western, Byzantine, and Caesarean Text Types.

Internal Evidence

  • Dittography (dittos and graphos): a scribe unintentionally repeats a word/words twice.
  • Haplography (haplos and graphos) a scribe unintentionally skipped over a word/words.
  • Homoioteleuton (homoi and telos): a scribe unintentionally skips over a word/words due to similar endings.
  • Homoioarcton (homoi and archē): a scribe unintentionally skips from a word/words to other words on the page that begin in a similar way.
  • Other accidental errors: spelling mistakes, confusing two similar sounding words, confusing similar looking letters, accidentally substituting a closely related synonym for the original word, etc.
  • Shorter reading (lectio brevior): scribes tended to expand upon passages, so the shorter reading is to be preferred.
  • More difficult reading (lectio difficilior): scribes tended to eliminate inconsistencies (i.e. harmonization) and correct perceived grammatical, stylistic, historical, or theological problems than create further problems, so the more difficult reading is to be preferred.

Example

Mark 1:1 “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ [Son of God]”

  • The longer reading is supported by the majority of the textual and Patristic witnesses, including texts from all four traditional textual families, though there are some important and diverse early witnesses for the shorter reading as well.
  • The Greek reads archē tou euangeliou iēsou christou huiou theou. You may notice all of the “genitive” ou endings, so it is possible that the last two words (huiou theou or “Son of God”) were accidentally omitted through the phenomenon of homoioteleuton. That such a mistake could happen may be evident in the correction of Codex Sinaiticus which initially omitted the last two words.
  • It is possible that a scribe was not satisfied that Mark introduced Jesus solely as the “Christ” and chose to elaborate that Jesus is also the “Son of God”, perhaps even to counter rival adoptionist interpretations of Mark’s baptism narrative.
  • Since Jesus’ divine sonship is central to Mark’s understanding of Jesus’ identity (see Mark 1:11; 3:11; 5:7; 9:7; 12:6; 15:39), the shorter reading may be the more difficult one.
  • Tommy Wasserman has created an online handout that summarizes the evidence in greater detail and leans towards the longer reading. Added note: Tommy Wasserman has written a larger article on this entitled “The Son of God was in the Beginning (Mark 1:1)” The Journal of Theological Studies 62 (2011): 20-50.

The Petrine Epistles

September 9, 2015

This post is part of my classroom lectures

First Peter

Audience

  • “To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1)
  • Should the term “exiles” be taken to mean that the Christian audience is metaphorically depicted as strangers on earth whose true homeland is in heaven or as literally marginalized and socially displaced persons (cf. John Elliott)?

Author: the Apostle Peter or a later follower writing in his name

  • “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:1)
  • Could a Galilean fisherman who was judged to be “without letters” (ἀγράμματος) (Acts 4:13) attain the literacy skills to write in polished Greek, demonstrate fine rhetorical skills, and extensively engage with the Septuagint? This leads to larger questions about the extent of Hellenization and the use of the Greek language in Galilee, the literacy rates in the ancient world and first-century Palestine specifically, and the question of whether Acts 4:13 implies that Peter was illiterate or merely an untrained religious layperson (ἰδιώτης).
  • Some scholars appeal to the use of a scribal assistant in composing the letter and 1 Peter 5:12 notes that διὰ Σιλουανοῦ . . . ἔγραφα (through Silvanus . . . I wrote). However, this may be an idiomatic expression to identify Silvanus as the mail-carrier who delivers the letter (cf. Ignatius’s Epistles to the Smyrnaeans 12:1, Philadelphians 11:1, Magnesians 15:1, and Romans 10:1).
  • The use of his Greek nickname “Peter” (Πέτρος) rather than the Aramaic Cephas, along with the lack of personal memories of his time with Jesus or discussion about the debates over Torah-observance (cf. Galatians 2:9-14), is striking.
  • The arguments for a later date count against Petrine authorship. However, this may be mitigated if one does not accept the tradition of Peter’s martyrdom in Rome around 64 CE as part of Nero’s persecution of Roman Christians as a scapegoat to blame for the fire in Rome (John 21:18-19 [?]; 2 Peter 1:14 [?]; 1 Clement 5:4 [?]; Ignatius, Epistle to the Romans 4.2-3; Dionysius of Corinth in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.26; Acts of Peter 36-39; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.3).

Date: between 60-110 CE based on the decisions on the points below

  • 1 Peter is referenced in 2 Peter 3:1, Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians (1:3; 2:1; 8:1), and the lost text of Papias of Hierapolis (in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.15.2; 3.39.17).
  • The Christian movement has spread throughout Asia Minor (cf. 1 Peter 1:1) and the label “Christian” (Χριστιανός) is now applied to the group in distinction from the Jews (4:16; cf. Acts 11:26; 26:28).
  • The coded reference to “Babylon” (=Rome) may presuppose the Roman destruction of the temple in 70 CE. Alternatively, “Babylon” may be part of the metaphorical imagery of living in exile.
  • Past commentators correlated the “fiery trial” that the Christians were undergoing with the correspondence between the governor of Bithynia-Pontus Pliny the Younger and the Roman emperor Trajan on how to deal with the Christians. More recently, scholars have pointed out that the persecution in 2 Peter largely involves local harassment and social ostracism rather than official state suppression.
  • 1 Peter appears to have access to a variety of sources including creeds, sayings of Jesus, extended scriptural exegesis (cf. Isaiah 53), parenetic material (similarities with Paul and James), and possibly some Pauline Epistles (e.g., Romans [?]) (cf. David G. Horrell).

Purpose:

  • To encourage Christians in the midst of their persecution and loss of social ties for their abandonment of their traditional gods and cultic practices, since they are following in Christ’s example of suffering.
  • To reinforce a new collective identity as a “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, [and] God’s own people” (1 Peter 2:9).
  • To implore Christians to be otherwise law-abiding citizens who honor the emperor and obey household codes.
  • To model a united front against opposition, the epistle itself harmonizes diverse streams of tradition.

Second Peter

Audience:

  • Uncertain. This “second letter” seems to be familiar with the earlier epistle in Peter’s name, unless this is a reference to some other unknown Petrine writing (cf. 2 Pet 3:1), and may imply that the audience is the same as 1 Peter.

Author: Peter or a later follower writing in his name

  • “Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). The use of the Semitic “Simeon” is paralleled in Acts 15:14 where it is places on the lips of Jesus’ brother and the Jerusalem leader James.
  • 2 Peter faces the same questions about whether the author’s facility in Greek and rhetorical skill matches the Galilean preacher Cephas. Further, the grandiose “Asiatic” Greek style and the allusions to Old Testament narratives rather than direct citations is quite different from the style of the author of 1 Peter. The Church Fathers recognized the different style of the two epistles, leading to debates over the apostolic authorship and canonicity of 2 Peter (cf. Ecclesiastical History 3.25.3).
  • 2 Peter 1:12-15 has elements that characterize other fictional “testaments” or farewell speeches including the protagonist’s predictions of his/her death and of what the future holds along with other ethical exhortations to the survivors (cf. Richard Bauckham). For example, check out The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs.

Date: between 64-150 CE based on scholarly decisions on these points.

  • 2 Peter 1:14 presupposes Peter’s death unless it is a prediction of the author. There also seems to be a tense shift in which the implied author’s predictions of future false teachers becomes a present reality for the community.
  • The “fathers” have died (2 Peter 3:4); either the past Christian generation or the patriarchs in Genesis are the referent.
  • 2 Peter 2:1:22 extensively parallels Jude 3-19 in wording and order, though it adds a few examples (Noah, Lot) and drops others (1 Enoch, Assumption of Moses). Although a few scholars have argued that Jude borrowed from 2 Peter or that both writings have a common source, the majority view is that the epistle of Jude has been almost totally incorporated into the later epistle of 2 Peter.
  • 2 Peter 3:1 shows that the letter must date after 1 Peter and depends on the dating of the latter.
  • Certain doubters criticize the expectation of Christ’s imminent “coming” (παρουσία) (2 Peter 3:4) and the author responds that a thousand years is like a day to the Lord (3:8), so the reader must not give up hope for the second coming even if it seems to have been delayed.
  • 2 Peter 3:15-16 appears to know a collection of Pauline Epistles that have been placed on par with the other “scriptures.”
  • 2 Peter may have access to the Gospel of Matthew (cf. 2 Peter 1:17-18; 2:20), while the references to the other canonical Gospels are more debatable [note: I have a chapter in a edited Mohr Siebeck volume on the relationship of 2 Peter to the Synoptic Gospels forthcoming].
  • The scholar Origen of Alexandria (ca. 185-254) offers the earliest explicit reference to 2 Peter (Homilies on Joshua 7.1; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.25.8), though other commentators argue for allusions to 2 Peter in earlier church authorities. The literary relationship of 2 Peter with the Apocalypse of Peter and the Acts of Peter is also debated.

Purpose:

  • The text wishes to defend the apostolically “Petrine” witness that Jesus will return against certain antinomian “scoffers” who both deny that Christ will return in the final judgment and are accused by the author of using this as an excuse to lead immoral lives.
  • The text combines Jewish apocalyptic with a Hellenistic ethos from its list of virtues that enable the reader to take on the “divine nature” or immortality (2 Peter 1:3-11) to its possible contacts with Epicurean philosophy (cf. Jerome H. Neyrey).

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