Research Digest

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As in the above case of Nebuchadnezzar's affliction, the raw and unsettling language used by Paul (and other Biblical writers) can also sometimes be lost to us through translation or over familiarity. V. Henry T. Nguyen's recent examination of 1 Cor 4:9, in New Testament Studies 53 (4). 2007. 489-501., uncovers the brutal and shocking context behind Paul's imagery of the apostles being exhibited, "as though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to mortals." Existing interpretations of this metaphor of 'spectacle' include (1) Roman triumphal procession, (2) a gladiatorial show or more recently (3) a mime performance. Henry however argues that the spectacle to which Paul refers should be specific kind which includes death and of which his readers would have been aware.     

1 Corinthians 4:9-13  

 

Henry notes that Corinth was renowned for its gladiatorial spectacles, being mentioned in the writings of Dio Chrysostom, Philostratus and Lucian, and that such a reference would have resonated with the readers of Paul's letter. Discounting a triumphal procession, which would not have included the immediate death of the paraded captors, Henry suggests that a more discriminating examination of those participating at the gladiatorial events may help to identify Paul's imagery. He points to an important distinction made between trained gladiators (for whom survival was at least a possibility) and condemned criminals (noxii), who were slaves, criminals, captives and deserters and for whom there was no chance of survival from certain butchery in the arena, either at the hands of gladiators or from wild animals. Henry argues that it is to these noxii that Paul likens the lowly status of the apostles; a group who were despised, hated and brutally subjected to prolonged and humiliating death. In this light, we can better understand Paul's catalogue of afflictions (4:10-13) and how, like the noxii, the apostles are naked or nearly naked (4:11). Henry argues that, even Paul's allusion to the apostle's having become like refuse and scum (4:13), could refer to the sites where the decomposing bodies of the noxii were thrown after the spectacles had finished. It also brings into fresh relief the nature of the "low and despised things of the world" through which God has chosen to demonstrate his "foolishness" to the world (1:25-28). 

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At the heart of the book of Deuteronomy is a call for the centralisation of religious practice. Although it frequently refers to a centralised site of worship ('the place of his name' often translated as 'the place which YHWH your God will choose to cause his name to dwell'), it fails to identify its geographical location. In the past a number of places have been suggested, but it is (more recently) usually assumed that it refers to the site at Jerusalem. Sandra Richter revisits this conundrum in her article in Vetus Testamentum 57. 2007. 342-366. She contends that while Jerusalem certainly was to eventually become 'the place of his name', Jerusalem is never mentioned in the book, nor in the settlement traditions in general. 

Drawing on her previous work, Sandra suggests that the Hebrew 'place of his name' can be better understood as a "loan-adaptation of the common Akkadian idiom" which is translated, 'to place his name'. She observes that this formula is consistently associated with the Mesopotamian ritual monumental tradition which, commencing in the the late third millennium, continued into the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian eras. Sandra concludes that likewise within Deuteronomy, 'the place Yahweh will choose' also refers to an inscribed monument or newly claimed territory or both suggesting, "might the book of Deuteronomy be identifying "the place" by identifying an Israelite cult site at which YHWH's monument was to be installed?" 

Supporting her claim with an analysis of internal evidence, Sandra proposes that the site to which Deuteronomy refers is not Jerusalem but Mount Ebal. She concludes that chapter 27 (often dismissed as an unfortunate interruption of earlier material which breaks the overall flow) actually marks the climax of this critical theme. Here, at Mount Ebal, we are told that the Israelites, having just crossed the river Jordan, are to erect stone pillars, covered in plaster, and to inscribe upon them the words of the law; a stone altar is also to be erected.      

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One of the most startling passages in the New Testament is Matthew's description of how Jesus would ultimately reject certain Christians even though they confessed that he was Lord and had performed miracles in his name, being branded as "workers of lawlessness" (Matthew 7:21-23; click here for Greek text link). In an article in New Testament Studies 53 (3). 2007. 325-334., David Sim of the Australian Catholic University argues that (1) these individuals are clearly identified as Christians and (2) they represent Paul and his followers. David suggests that this is further evidence of an anti-Pauline perspective in Matthew's writing.

The context of this passage is the Sermon on the Mount. David points out that earlier in the sermon, Matthew presents Jesus teaching that the Torah (nomos) was to be obeyed in its entirety by his followers (Matt 5:17-19). This is now contrasted by those Christians who are workers of lawlessness (anomia). He then argues that, "now at [the sermon's] conclusion [Matthew] spells out in graphic detail the fate of those Law-free Christians who ignore this fundamental demand."

David's claim is based on a number of points. The title Lord (kurios) is important for both Matthew and Paul. In fact, it has long been recognised that Matthew is the only Gospel writer to represent the disciples consistently calling Jesus 'Lord'. Moreover, it has been calculated that Paul uses the title to describe Jesus around 200 times. However, David argues that Matthew is responding to, and correcting, Paul's teaching in Romans 10:9-13, that salvation is dependent upon confession. Instead, Matthew attempts to show that confession alone is not enough, one must also 'do the Father's will' (Matt 7:21). By so doing, he also counters 1 Corinthians 12:3 in which Paul teaches that confession of Jesus as Lord is always influenced by the Holy Spirit.  

Furthermore, David argues that reference to the rather strange triad of prophesying, exorcising and performing mighty works (Luke has eating, drinking and teaching - Lk 13:26) was a deliberate choice by Matthew to identify the Pauline Christians. He claims that prophecy was the greatest and "single most important gift" in Paul's teaching and within the Pauline churches and was used to "demonstrate their close relationship with Jesus the Lord." David also notes that, although Paul is curiously silent about exorcisms, it appears that "traditions soon emerged in the Pauline circles that he was an established exorcist" - as reflected in Acts 16 and 19.

David concludes by suggesting:

By describing these Pauline Christians as workers of lawlessness, the Matthean Jesus identifies with absolute clarity the precise nature of their failings as Christians. They are guilty of lawlessness, not observing the Torah, and this contradicted the direct command of the Matthean Jesus earlier in the sermon that the Mosaic Law was to be fulfilled in full (5:17-19). 

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If you read 1 Samuel 12:11 in a number of different translations you will find something of an anomaly; one of the names keeps changing. Sometimes, the second name in the list is Bedan, sometimes it is Barak, other contenders have included, Deborah, Jephthah and Gideon. Serge Frolov has been investigating this puzzle in his article "Bedan: A Riddle in Context" in the Journal of Biblical Literature 126 (1). 2007. 164-167. and has come up with an interesting explanation to this rather strange passage. Historically, the name of Beden has always been something of a problem. Serge notes that even the earliest translators struggled with it. The Septuagint (LXX) calls him Barak, the Peshitta inserts Deborah and Barak and Jospehus omits him altogether. Modern exegetes tend to opt for Barak, but even here Jephthah, Abdon, Gideon and Deborah have all been named as likely candidates. 

However, Serge argues that Bedan is not a misspelling or copyist's error, but was deliberately chosen by Samuel in his retelling of Israel's military feats. He notes that Bedan is not the only odd detail in Samuel's farewell address; the chronology of exploits is all wrong, Moses and Aaron are described as having reached the Promised land (v.8) and Samuel asserts that the people ask for a king in light of of Ammonite aggression (v.12), contradicting 1 Sam 8:4-6 where abuse by his sons is the reason and 1 Sam 9:16 where the Philistines are the reason. Serge observes that Samuel's account also displays an explicit Transjordanian bias. He argues that the reason for such obfuscation is that the Philistines still hold control over the land (they are even garrisoned near Saul's city - 1 Sam 10:5). Serge then argues that, making public the fact that YHWH could redeem Israel from its oppressors with a series of ad-hoc individuals could jeopardise the newly appointed king (and Samuel's position as king maker) by alerting the Philistines to the main reason for Saul's appointment. Samuel therefore adroitly uses recent Transjordan campaigns against the Ammonites to create the impression that it was the threat from the Transjordan area that was all he was worried about. Samuel then incorporates Bedan (associated with Transordan - 1 Chron 7:17) into his list of military figures. Serge concludes that Samuel's strategy was seeking to "reassure Israel's Philistine overlords, while impressing the Israelite audience with YHWH's unfailing ability to overthrow any foreign domination."

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Following the media rush surrounding the Gospel of Judas it is good to have a clear and level headed overview and Peter Head does just that in the Tyndale Bulletin 58 (1) 2007. 1-24. While the actual text is beginning to be available, the great strength of Peter's "preliminary observations" is that he examines the Gospel in the context in which it was found. It is often overlooked that the codex (Codex Tchacos) in which the Gospel is bound also contains three other texts. In fact the codex itself was found with other codices (a 4/5th century Greek text of Exodus; a 4/5th century Coptic codex containing the Letters of Paul - whereabouts now unknown - and a portion of a mathematical treatise, claimed by the dealer to have been written in 307 CE.

Codex Tchacos contains:

  • Letter of Peter to Philip (a text already known from the Nag Hammadi find; NH VIII.2)
  • Revelation of James (a text also known from Nag Hammadi; NH V.3)
  • The Gospel of Judas
  • Book of Allogenes (reported to be seriously damaged and the text of which is as yet unknown)

Peter looks at the Gospel of Judas in the light of its neighbouring texts and identifies a number of instructive similarities which may help to explain why they were collected in this way. He argues that they all offer a narrative that relates to Jesus' last weeks and his resurrection. They all appear to display a familiarity with portions of the New Testament, especially Acts, that deal with this time. They include reflection on the nature of Jesus' sufferings and future persecutions of his followers. They all "explicitly discuss the divesting of the outer physical humanity in order to set free the inner person."    

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The Song of Deborah (Judges 5) is widely accepted to be of ancient provenance. An article in Biblica 88 (2007). pp1-22 by Gregory Wong casts fresh light upon the history of this song. It is often compared with the Song of Moses (Exodus 15) and is commonly believed to share with it the same genre of 'Victory Songs'. However, Gregory notes that there are important differences between the two. Unlike the Song of Moses, the Song of Deborah only briefly mentions the destruction of Israel's enemy and that the victory is not directly attributed to YHWH. In fact, Gregory suggests that the central focus of the song is upon the actions of the Israelite tribes and warriors. He asserts that the song was not primarily about celebrating Israel's military victory, but was actually a "polemic against Israelite non-participation in military campaigns against external enemies." The song was then later incorporated into the Judges' narrative.

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The story of 'the woman taken in adultery' (John 7:53-8:11) has been the subject of a lot of discussion. One of its peculiarities is that, over the years, it crops up in different places. We have two old manuscripts where the passage (usually referred to as a pericope) appears after John 21:25; another two where it is inserted after 7:36; seventeen where it follows 8:12; one where it is squeezed in between 8:14a and 14b and another one where it comes after 8:20. We even have one manuscript where, in a slightly changed form, it appears in Luke (following Luke 21:28). A number of important manuscripts omit it altogether. Many of our modern Bibles recognise this textual instability by placing the passage within parentheses or marking it with a footnote. Furthermore, many scholars have pointed to uncharacteristic vocabulary and style to question whether this story was really written by the author of John's Gospel. 

Josep Rius-Camps provides an interesting solution to this puzzle in New Testament Studies 53 (3). 2007. pp379-405. Following a detailed textual analysis, he concludes that the pericope was originally part of Mark's Gospel and came just after the first time the High Priests, scribes and elders questioned Jesus' authority (Mark 11:27-12:12). This story was then adapted by Luke (Luke 20:1-19). However, Josep contends that the story's implied moral leniency led to its excision from these Gospels and for twenty to thirty years it was transmitted independently among the more liberal Christian communities. He then argues that it was as the churches gradually "collected together the four canonical Gospels, the [story] would have been inserted in different places in the Gospel of John or the Gospel of Luke."

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The literary skill of the Old and New Testament authors is highlighted in two recent pieces of research. Hilary Marlow looks at the Lament over the River Nile (Isaiah 19:5-10) in Vetus Testamentum 57. 2007. pp229-242. Hilary demonstrates that this, usually overlooked, lamentation presents a high degree of literary skill. The author displays a close knowledge of Egyptian life and geography, as well as the place of the River Nile within the Egyptian consciousness. It also shows an awareness of Egyptian literature, particularly the Egyptian prophecy of Neferti (1900 BCE). Hilary concludes that the lament is a "literary composition of some artistry, deliberately constructed to present YHWH's judgement on Egypt in the starkest and most dramatic of terms" (2007:242).

Meanwhile, writing in the Journal for the Study of the New Testament 29 (3). 2007. pp287-301., Deborah Thompson Prince writes an absorbing article on the 'Ghost' of Jesus in Luke 24 in the light of ancient narratives of post-mortem apparitions. The explicit way in which Luke portrays the palpability of Jesus' resurrected form (with reference to his hands, feet and ability to eat) is taken by most commentators as evidence of Luke's intent to counter any claims that Jesus' resurrected form was that of a ghost. However, Gregory Riley's Resurrection Reconsidered: Thomas and John in Controversy (1995), has persuasively argued that the readers of the time would not necessarily have understood this in these terms. Gręco-Roman literature, like most literature, is rich with stories about ghosts and post-mortem activity. However, a striking feature about these is the way they describe ghosts being able to eat and revenants (reanimated corpses) having solid bodies. Deborah then poses the question, why should Luke appear to emphasise these qualities if, to his Gręco-Roman audience, they were not proof of Jesus' corporeality? She therefore looks again at the literary evidence, which she presents as comprising four main categories:

  • Disembodied spirits
  • Revenants 
  • Dead heroes 
  • Translated mortals

When comparing these ancient literary works with Luke's account, she finds that Luke is actually reconfiguring these traditions. She argues that to use one particular trope would simply be inadequate for Luke's task - there was not the appropriate language through which he could express the magnitude of the resurrection event. Therefore, he attempts to disorientate his readers, lulling them through the use of conventional motifs and then creating a disjunction by introducing a different motif.

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Probably, Ezekiel is best known for its striking images - Valley of the Dry Bones, water gushing from the Temple and alleged UFOs - rather than its literary structure. Nevertheless, even here, interesting information can be learned. The Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 31 (3). 2007. pp275-293 carries an article by Preston Sprinkle, of the University of Aberdeen, titled "Law and Life: Leviticus 18:5 in the Literary Framework of Ezekiel".    

Although it has long been recognised that throughout Ezekiel 20 the author alludes to Lev 18:5 (particularly the phrase - the person who does these things [the statutes and ordinances] will live by them), Preston argues that it provides a motif that runs throughout the entire book, working on a number of levels. Ezekiel uses this phrase to generate the themes of Israel's disobedience to Yahweh's statutes and judgements and Yahweh's promise of life to His people. Preston concludes that, "[t]he conditional potential of life held out in the Judgement Oracle [Ez. 1-24] is unconditionally fulfilled in the Oracle of Reconstruction [Ez. 33:21- 48:35]." By using the Levitical text in this way, "[t]he conditional nature of Leviticus 18:5 is thus replaced by divine intervention."

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Where did the Apostle Peter die? Tradition, primarily that presented by Jerome, states the Peter died in Rome having been crucified upside down - because he did not feel worthy to die in the manner of Jesus. More recently, scholars have tended to dismiss this story as apocryphal embellishment and have suggested the Peter probably died (peacefully in bed - as one scholar has claimed) and was buried in Jerusalem. 

Markus Bockmuehl, of St Andrews, has reassessed the evidence in the Scottish Journal of Theology 60 (1). 2007. pp1-23. In the light of a newer understanding on the primacy placed by the ancients on the 'living memory' as an authoritative source, Markus suggests that both disputed accounts (that of Jerome and 1 Clement 5) concerning Peter's death in Rome are likely to hold a kernel of truth. He argues that the silence of earlier authors concerning the place and mode of Peter's death can be explained by the presence of a collective 'living memory' (they all knew the facts without them needing to be spelt out again) and a sensitivity to fellow Christians undergoing state persecution. Markus does, however, concede that the story of Peter's upside down crucifixion is probably a late 2nd century "subversive" embellishment.     

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The Gospel of John as history. For many people, the Gospel of John is primarily a spiritual or theological account of Jesus' life, as opposed to the more straight-forward records of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). Nevertheless, this notion has been challenged by Richard Bauckham, of St Andrews, in New Testament Studies 53. 2007. pp17-36.  

The question of what is the precise genre of the Gospels has puzzled scholars for a long time. Most believe that they loosely fall into the category of Bios, an ancient form of biography in which the life of a notable figure is presented in a laudatory style or in order to promote or defend their reputation/accomplishments. However, the Graeco-Roman world also recognised historiographical works which aimed at presenting accounts of specific historical events. 

Whilst Bios and historiography represent distinct genre, there does appear to be a certain blurring between the two and Richard argues that the Gospel of John displays many characteristics of a historiographical work. Looking at John's use of topography and chronology, he suggests that the precision of detail reflects those found in other contemporary works of historiography. Although there has been a tendency to assume that geographical locations in the fourth Gospel are primarily symbolic, Richard contends that the way they are used within the narrative structure should not be read as "primarily a matter of symbolism, but of realistic historiography." 

He further suggests that the dates of all the events which are recorded in the Gospel display a greater precision than those found in any of the synoptics. Other features consistent with historiography include: selectivity, narrative asides (explanations to what is happening within the account - foreign words explained) and eye witness testimony. The one element which is generally seen as being less historical concerns discourse and dialogues. However, even here, Richard argues that its use in John is commensurate with that found in contemporary historiographical works.   

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King David's 'desertion' to the Philistine army (1 Sam 27 - 29) has generally been perceived as a rather embarrassing blemish to his career. One of the most troubling aspects of this period is David's apparent lack of demurral at King Achish's order to fight against Israel (1 Sam 28:1-2). This event occurs within a corpus of stories often referred to as the 'History of David's Rise' (HDR) and comprises 1 Samuel 16 to 2 Samuel 5. However, Yael Shemesh detects literary clues provided by the narrator to suggest a more subversive intention behind David's actions. 

His article, appearing in Vetus Testamentum 57. 2007. pp73-90, uses literary analysis to demonstrate that the narrator, without explicitly stating as such, intends to depict David's actions as insubordinate and having the potential (had not Achish sent him away) of attacking and undermining the Philistine army. Throughout the story, the narrator weaves into the account numerous clues to indicate David's true intentions. In this way, the narrator presents David working as a Fifth Columnist. Yael concludes that, "whereas most Biblical scholars believe that David faced a cruel dilemma when Achish asked him to join the battle against Saul, for the Biblical narrator the situation may be delicate, but there is no dilemma: David never even considered the possibility of fighting against Saul and Israel." 

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Non-canonical Gospels (those which were not accepted into the New Testament canon) have received a lot of attention in the light of the Da Vinci Code and the Gospel According to Judas. One of the first non-canonical Gospel to be found was the Gospel of Peter. The manuscript of this text was found in Akhmim (Upper Egypt) during an archaeological expedition 1886-7 and published in 1892. The 8th Century codex was found interred alongside the body of a monk. Although this manuscript dates to the 8th Century, we have references of it being in circulation during the late 2nd Century. 

Writing in the Expository Times 118 (7). 2007. pp318-327, Paul Foster, of the University of Edinburgh, provides an overview of this text. He argues that it does not present a radically different theology or expression of Christianity and suggests that, instead, it is "a popularising version of the crucifixion and resurrection" which makes the canonical traditions more "lively and engaging." The miraculous is given a greater emphasis and additional details are added to the narrative.

However, the Gospel of Peter does contain some suggestive elements. Paul detects an anti-Semitic trend within the text which "blackens the role of the Jews" in the crucifixion event and almost entirely exonerates the place of Pilate. Other interesting features include Jesus' cry on the cross as "My power, my power, you have left me." and a record of the cross speaking (at the resurrection). Foster suggests that this might be the "embryonic form of the initial stages of the harrowing of hell tradition."

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Solomon's dream at Gibeon (1 Kings 3:4-15) is a popular text for sermons on wisdom. However, there are elements in the account that have suggested to scholars that they might be a later redaction (edited version) in which extra information and stories concerning Samuel were expanded. One such problem lies in the apparent tension between the stipulation of longevity (v.14) considered to be typical of the later Deuteronomist writings and the "unconditional formula of the Davidic promise in 2 Samuel 7. 

Writing in the Journal of Biblical Studies 6 (2). 2006. pp1-6., Michael Avioz, of Bar-Ilan University, challenges this view. He contends that not only has conditionality always been part of the Davidic covenant, the words and phrases used in the Dream at Gibeon account do not reflect those found within the wider Deuteronomical writings. Furthermore, he supports his early dating of this account by citing parallels found in ancient Egyptian, Hittite, Sumerian and Acadian sources.   

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Baptism for the Dead In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul refers to, what to our eyes, may seem a rather strange practice; baptising for (lit. 'on behalf of' - huper) the dead (1 Cor 15:29). To some sections of the Church, the practice appears at odds with their belief (vicarious baptism was expressly forbidden by the Orthodox Church in the 4th Century), others simply do not know what to make of it. Numerous attempts have been made to argue that Paul is condemning this type of baptism (or even that it refers to pagans living nearby). Arguments of this kind depend largely on eisegetically reading this meaning into the text. There is nothing in the way that Paul refers to such baptism to suggest that he disapproved of it, he just alludes to it in the light of his wider argument concerning resurrection (15:20-34).

However, fresh insight into the background of such baptismal practices is made by James Patrick of Cambridge University writing in New Testament Studies 52 (1). He describes how "baptism in the Corinthian church was an expression of allegiance to honour not only Christ but also the ‘patron’ apostle in whose testimony the convert had believed (1 Cor 1:12–17)." The concept of patronage was a fundamental principle within this type of society at the time. James goes on to note that, "[s]ome apostles known to the Corinthians had died (cf. 15.6), yet their testimony lived on and bore fruit in Corinth, resulting in baptism for the honouring of the dead apostles. In the context of 15:20–34 Paul uses this practice to expose the hypocrisy of those who deny the resurrection and yet seek to honour apostles who depend on the resurrection for receiving honour, as do Christ and God the Father."

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