Research Digest

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For those who have dipped their toe into waters of the pistis Christou question by looking at the coffee-break poser, you might be interested in hearing that the debate still rumbles on and is still being featured within the academic press. Its most recent outing is David Stubb’s article ‘The shape of soteriology and the pistis Christou debate’ (Scottish Journal of Theology 61 (2). 2008. 137-157). David points out that, although the question has recently been the subject of a fair amount of discussion among New Testament scholars, there has been very little attention paid to it by theologians. This is all the more remarkable, as David points out, as the phrase is so central to our understanding of Paul and soteriology (salvation).

David suggests that renewed theological interest in the question might be generated following the recent publication of Douglas Harink’s book, Paul Among the Postliberals. Addressing a primarily theological audience, David first introduces the terms of the debate and what he describes as its “two primary patterns of soteriology”:

1. The “participationist eschatology” to which David links the ‘faith of Christ’ reading (subjective genitive). 

2. The “classic Lutheran understanding of Paul” which relates to ‘faith in Christ’ (objective genitive).  

David goes on to argue that the Christologically centred position creates the “most convincing interpretational matrix for reading Paul” if one also adopts a broader understanding of pistis (to denote faith and faithfulness) and to frame soteriology around the concept of ‘participation in Christ’. In conclusion, David looks at the wider implications of this debate and leaves us with this thought: “My hope is that such an understanding of Paul [as outlined in his article] can provide common ground not only among Protestant theologians, but also across the ecumenical spectrum, helping to bring unity to the scandalously fragmented church.”

Like to go a little deeper?

If you have not already done so, take a look at the coffee-break poser on Pistis Christou - here

For a fairly recent (Oct. 2007) blog-article on the question, Michael Pahl presents an excellent,  very readable and even-handed assessment of the debate, as well as describing his own 'tentative' position - click here

For recent research just completed at Birmingham in relation to this question - click here

For publisher's information on Douglas Harink's Paul among the Postliberals - click here

To read Richard Hay's (Duke Univ.) review of Douglas Harink's book - click here




Geography and location can play an immensely important role within Biblical narrative texts and this is highlighted by Françoise Mirguet’s article (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 32 (3). 2008. 311-330.) which re-examines the rather complicated account of the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram in Numbers 16. Françoise notes that this story is one of the “more puzzling episodes” in the Book of Numbers, particularly in relation to the rebels’ claims (holiness of Israel – v.3) and the seemingly “disproportionate” violence of YHWH’s intervention (vv.28-35). By using the locations where the actions take place as key ‘spatial markers’, he demonstrates how the narrator attempts to convey the way this rebellion threatens even the basic structures of Israel .


The complexity of the story is due, in part, to its multiple telling, with the account, which we now have, being the product of a number of hands. Although Françoise summarises the various academic arguments surrounding the revisions and rewriting of this story, he concentrates primarily on the account that is now found in our Bibles.

Numbers 16:1-35


The first location, the place of confrontation, is ‘the entrance of the tent of meeting’ (v.18b). François reminds us that this is the centre of Israel; it is the place of priestly mediation and sacrificial offering. Consequently, as he notes, the entrance of the tent of meeting is “key place in priestly theology” (see Exodus 29:42). He then argues that, positioning Moses and Aaron at the entrance to the tent is “an implicit answer to the rebels” which affirms their positions as priestly intermediaries between the people and YHWH (specifically his anger). Korah’s response in assembling the whole congregation (v.19a) can therefore be read as usurpation of Moses’ role as the one who is ordained to call together such assemblies.


The next spatial indicator identified by Françoise relates to (the instruction to) movement: “separate yourselves from the centre of the assembly” (v.19b). The order ‘to separate’ carries the association of separating the clean from the unclean. This reflects, socially, the boundaries imposed by tabernacle as well as emphasising that Moses and Aaron have to be ‘set apart’ by YHWH to re-establish social and religious order. Françoise further argues that to be separated from the centre conveys the message that the tabernacle had become profane through this act of rebellion. The former ‘emptiness’ (symbolising the alterity of YHWH) of the tabernacle that is at the centre of the community actually protects the nation from “idolatrous and authoritarian power” and it is this space which the rebels, themselves, have desecrated by their attempt to occupy it. The underlying meaning is that YHWH is re-emphasising that only Moses and Aaron are chosen to be set apart (countering Korah’s claims) and that people not chosen by YHWH cannot occupy the centre (cultic, political and religious) centre of Israel. By so doing, François notes, “[t]he assembly has lost its centre—YHWH’s Dwelling—and, with it, its own distinctiveness, which is the condition of its very existence.”  


The rather complex and difficult nature of the text in v.24 emphasise that rather than the tabernacle, the dwelling (singular) of the rebels had become the ‘centre’ of the nation. And so, YHWH commands a restoration of the established order. This is then followed by a spatial marker which describes the movement from the ‘tabernacle’ to the ‘tents’ (vv.25-26). Once again, the language used here, relating to the verb ‘to go’, is closely linked with the language of the Exodus from Egypt . The next part of the narrative takes place at the doors of Dathan’s and Abiram’s tents (v.27b). François suggests that there are parallels here with the resultant distancing by YHWH of his tabernacle following the golden calf incident (Ex 33:7-11) and implies that the rebellion is on par with idolatry.


The final scene (vv.28-35), where the ground swallows the up the rebels, is full of reversal and irony. Twice they had refused to ‘go up’, now they get to ‘go down’. They had complained that they had been brought out of a 'land of milk and honey' (v.13 - a description original denoting the Promised Land) to die, now they are taken down into Sheol alive (v.33).        

Like to go a little deeper?

F Bechtel's article in the Catholic Encyclopaedia. It is old (1913), but may be interesting to those who do not have access to more recent works - click here  

Over the centuries, the rebellion of Dathan has been the subject of numerous pieces of art. Biblical Art on the WWW hosts a number of them  - click here

For those interested in learning more about the Book of Numbers:

David Malick's Introduction to the Book of Numbers will give you an excellent start - click here



It may come as a surprise to those familiar with the Gospels that they are in fact anonymous. Superscriptions which appear at the beginning of the text and contain the author’s name are secondary textual additions which were incorporated by a later tradition. This is in marked contrast to other New Testament texts (letters, apocalypse) which clearly state their (purported) authors. Moreover, such an omission from these narrative accounts (including Acts) appears to break with the convention of other histories produced at this time which almost always (with some exceptions relating to particular genre) published the name of their author.


In his recent article in Novum Testamentum. 50 (2). 2008 120-142., Armin Baum notes that although most writers of Greek and Roman historiography clearly stated the author, the historiography of the Old Testament is, without exception, anonymous. Moreover, he draws attention to the fact that the historical books of the Hebrew Bible tend to be named after their introductory words (Genesis), content (Chronicles) or prominent characters (Joshua). This has the effect of hiding, or at least back-grounding, the author. Armin points out that this was established practice within the literary world of the Ancient Near East (ANE) until the time of Alexander. However, even following the Alexandrian period, Hebrew writings such as 1 Maccabees retained the convention of anonymity. Consequently, by writing anonymously, Armin asserts that the New Testament Gospel writers (even Luke-Acts with their prologues) were “closer to Hebrew than to Greco-Roman historiography.”   


Armin suggests that one of the reasons behind the Greco-Roman authorial practice of writing one’s name stemmed from the fame (rather than financial reward) that could be gained from producing such a literary work. He also notes that within the Greco-Roman histories the narrator is constantly on view through their use of the first person pronoun. This is contrasted by the Old Testament histories where the first person is never used and which serves to  hide the narrator’s voice and presence. Furthermore, Armin argues that it is possible to detect a particular attitude with the way the text is handled and presented. He suggests that the Old Testament narrators saw themselves as those who passed on the continuing tradition of the oral and written texts. In other words, they viewed themselves not as reporters of historical events, but as those who part of a long tradition in passing those accounts on. In so doing, the narrators were ensuring that “absolute priority” was given to the subject matter, not their literary styles or skill. It was this attitude, Armin contends, that prompted the New Testament Gospel writers to follow the Hebrew (and ANE) convention of anonymity, rather than emulate the Greco-Roman literary style and attitude, in order to give pre-eminence to their subject matter.      


Like to go a little deeper?

In relation to historiography of this period, Josephus may be seen as an interesting character as he seems to straddle both traditions, the Hebrew (and ANE) and the Greco-Roman style. In his preface to his Antiquities he describes his motivation and work as a historiographer. To read it - click here 



The use and role of sacred texts can tell us a lot about the religious attitudes of a particular community. The introduction of a new translation of Scripture is often resisted by some quarters of the religious community and must overcome a number of questions relating to its accuracy and authority. Even today, the depth of feeling can be measured by the media and Church interest generated by the publication of a new or revised translation of the Bible. When the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, was being produced (from between 300 and 200 BCE) it also faced questions concerning its veracity. In the Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 17 (2). 2008. 141-160, Dries De Crum argues that the second century BCE Letter of Aristeas was an attempt to confirm the authority of this translation.  


Examining the main figures in Aristeas’ narrative, Dries argues that two distinct “structures of authority” emerge: One is Greek and the other Jewish. These two structures are very different. The Greek tends to be centred on text and both perspectives needed to be addressed in validating the status of the text. On the one hand the letter points to the Greek appeal to authority, text-based, the authority of which is guaranteed by skills in translation and textual criticism which is instigated by Demetrius under the patronage of Ptolemy, and on the other hand, a community-centred Jewish authority mediated through interpretation, instigated by Aristeas with the Pharaoh as benefactor. Central to both structures was the piety of those involved in the process. In this way the Letter of Aristeas manages to establish the authority of the LXX in both Jewish and Greek arenas.    

Like to go a little deeper?

To learn more about the Septuagint - click here

For the online Greek text of the Septuagint - click here

For an introduction and background to the Letter of Aristeas - click here

To read the English translation of the Letter of Aristeas - click here

For the summary of Jim Davila's (1999) paper on the Letter of Aristeas - click here



Mark’s (Mark 8:2-26) account of the use of spittle by Jesus in his healing of the blind man is interesting because it is atypical of his recording of Jesus’ usual practice.

Mark 8:22-26

Parallels between this account and a similar healing (using spittle) by the Roman Emperor Vespasian have been known for a long time. However, an article in New Testament Studies 54 (1). 2008. 1-17., suggests that the two may be linked. Eric Eve argues that the reports of Vespasian’s miraculous healings (Tactitus, Histories 4.81; Suetonius, Vespasian 7.2; and Cassius Dio Roman Histories LXV.8), one of which involves his use of spittle to heal a blind man, appear to be designed to create a close association between (perhaps even a direct identification with) the Emperor and the god Sarapis and was intended to legitimate his claim to the throne during a politically turbulent period. The worship of Sarapis was a syncretistic cult formed principally from Egyptian and Greek religious images and practice promoted within Ptolemaic Egypt.


Eric sets the reports of Vespasian’s healing within the wider context of a propaganda campaign mounted on his behalf to secure the imperial throne (around 69 CE). He concludes by suggesting that, through portents, prophecies and miraculous works, these efforts to equate Vespasian with divine favour would appear to the Jewish nation (already under considerable pressure from Rome) as quasi-messianic and a “usurpation of Jewish messianic hopes.”


While conceding that Mark’s account functions on a number of levels, Eric argues that it could also act as a response to this propaganda. Looking at the passage in greater detail, he observes that the “spitting is curiously redundant”; the man only asks to be touched, Jesus uncharacteristically spits (the only other time is Mark 7:33), after the initial partial healing, Jesus then heals through his touch without using spittle. Eric contends that the inclusion of spittle is an editorial device to create an association with Vespasian’s miracle. Just as Vespasian’s supporters used the story to heighten his claim to divine favour, Mark leads from this story straight into Peter’s confession of Jesus as the messiah (Mark 8:27-30), an explanation that ‘messiah’ should be understood in terms very different from that styled by Vespasian (8:31-38) and then the divine endorsement of the Transfiguration (9:1-9).


Eric notes that even if any similarities between the two healing stories were purely coincidental, it would be more than likely that “Mark’s audience would hear one story in terms of the other.” 

Want to Know More About Vespasian?

To read Tacitus' account of Vespasian - click here

To read Suetonius' account of Vespasian - click here



Does Proverbs really equate some types of women with ‘pigs’? In an article in Vetus Testamentum 58 (1). 2008. 13-27., Knut Heim from the Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham re-examines this interpretation and suggests an alternative. He notes that, although more recent commentators are becoming sensitive to issues of imagery and gender, most modern commentaries of Proverbs 11:22 still tend to draw a simple correspondence between physical beauty with the gold ring and the representation of the woman with that of a pig. Accordingly, the proverb tends (although not exclusively) to be read as an “emblematic parallelism”; where the first line presents an image (like a cartoon) and the second functions as its caption.    

Proverbs 11:22


Knut approaches 11:22 through the wider context of Proverbs. He notes that the intended target readers of the text were young males who were being prepared for leadership roles within ancient Israelite society. Instruction in gender relations, as well as marriage and family roles were therefore highly important. He also points out the editors of Proverbs have utilised the tendency within Hebrew grammar to render abstract nouns (such as ‘wisdom’) in the feminine gender which helps to “create a range of appealing female figures that hold the (male) readers’ interest.”


Knut offers a literal translation of 11:22 to illustrate an alternative reading where the figure of the woman is not represented by the pig:

           A golden ring in the snout of a pig;
                a beautiful woman who has turned from discretion.

In this way, the value of the ring (gold) is devalued by its context (snout of a pig). Likewise the value of the woman (her beauty) is also devalued by her context (behaviour which lacks discretion). The woman is therefore represented, not as a pig, but as a ring. Knut observes that there is a sense in which beauty is presented here as a commodity which draws parallels with Proverbs 12:4, where a bride is seen as the adornment of the husband. Linking the two proverbs, he suggests that the pig might even be seen to refer to the husband! Knut concludes with presenting two images that 11:22 evokes. (1) The husband who tries to display his wife as evidence of his social worth or status. (2) The man who chooses outward beauty over inward qualities will be seen for what he is – “a pig whose beautiful but indiscrete wife leads him by the nose.”


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