I wasn't going to succumb to this meme but in the light of the fact that I have enjoyed reading the confessions of so many others, I felt duty bound to add my own contribution, not least as a way of getting out of a lack-of-blogging rut.
1. I confess that, despite David Bentley Hart, I still love listening to Wagner (Bach as well mind you).
2. I confess that some times I wonder whether I should really be a Roman Catholic, but that in the end I am not sure I could be anything other than a Baptist (despite some fundamental differences with much of what passes for standard Baptist opinion on matters liturgical, doctrinal or ethical).
3. I confess that although I love Manchester and could live here my whole life, there is a place in my heart that is always Oxford.
4. I confess that every attempt I have ever made to introduce some basic spiritual discipline in my life has failed ... miserably.
5. I confess that it annoys me when comments in favour of contextual approaches to theology are accompanied by comments disparaging the historical western theological tradition and used as a way of avoiding the necessary in depth engagement with it. The point is that the whole lot, from Paul, through Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin and Barth is contextual theology.
6. I confess that I still think that Greek should be mandatory for anyone studying for the ordained ministry of word and sacrament.
7. I confess that I can be really rather lazy and that I do not write as much as I should.
8. I confess that I fear that I am more of a politician than a prophet - and this bothers me.
9. I confess that I often think that being a Baptist minister is the thing that has kept me Christian and that becoming a NT scholar and teacher is the thing that has kept me in ministry.
In my Whitley Lecture (summary here and responses from fellow bloggers here, here, here and here) I picked up James K. A. Smith's idea that the Tower of Babel narrative in Genesis 11 should not be understood as a story of human diversity as the result of divine punishment for human pride. In the lecture I only allude to this point, but am now delighted to see in a recent issue of JBL an article which adds significant exegetical weight to this argument. In 'The Tower of Babel and the Origin of the World's Culture' (JBL 126 (2007), 29-58, Theodore Hiebert makes the following exegetical arguments in favour of the view that Christian interpreters of the story have 'outdone the story's own characters in the quest for ethnic uniformity ... and devalued difference, seeing it as an obstacle, a source of confusion and chaos, a catastrophe and a curse upon the human race and ultimately, a judgment of God' (p.58).
1. The use of repetition in the story emphasizes its main theme: that of there being one language and the same words: שָׂפָה אֶחָת וּדְבָרִים אֲחָדִים (note the repetition of אֶחָד and the repeat of the motif in 11.1 and 11.5)
2. Thus the focus of the narrative is the whole human race. The interpretation that understands the building to be the work of one culture (usually the Babylonians - most artistic portrayals understand the tower to have been a ziggurat of some sort and this cultural reading underlies most post-colonial readings of the text).
3. The tower is pretty much an irrelevance on the story. What is built is a 'city with a tower': עִיר וּמִגְדָּל .The tower drops out of the 2nd part of the story altogether (see 11.6-9). Thus the story is actually poorly-named.
4. The motif of the tower with 'its top in the sky': וְרֹאשׁוֹ בַשָּׁמַיִם is misconstrued by those who think the narrative focus is on human pride and hubris. The phrase is idiomatic and means 'a very tall tower' - nothing more. Likewise the people's desire to 'make a name for ourselves' וְנַעֲשֶׂה־לָּנוּ שֵׁם is not an expression of a desire for human self-aggrandizement, but the quest for a stable, common identity.
5. In the second part of the drama, God ignores the city and the tower, but instead addresses the fact that human beings look like they will probably succeed in their enterprise or bing one people with one language in one place. English translations read ideas of condemnation into 11.6 - they are not there in the Hebrew which is a basically neutral statement of fact.
6. God's action is therefore not to be understood as punishment, but the creation of a multilingual world and human dispersion.
These points only begin to touch on the arguments in this important article (Hiebert also attends to the setting of the Babel story within Genesis 1-11 and biblical theology more generally). What is clear is that difference, particularity, heterogeneity are all understood as God's intention for the world. Difference must be understood, therefore, as 'God's aspiration for the new world after the flood' (p.58).
'The Rhetorical Identification of Judaism and Gentile Paganism in Paul's Letters'
Recent scholarly discussion of Paul’s post-call/conversion attitude towards Judaism can neglect the rhetorical, contextual and polemical dimensions of the relevant epistolary texts. Works that portray Paul’s ‘view’ of Judaism in terms of either continuity or discontinuity, as either ‘positive’ or ‘negative’, often assume that such a view can be abstracted from the texts and shaped into a coherent set of statements, otherwise known as Paul’s ‘theology’.
In this paper, I do not intend to survey such portrayals, and do not want to reject the possibility of giving an account of Paul’s theological convictions. Instead, I seek to show how attention to the rhetorical features of his letters might add nuance to any such account. Specifically, I want to investigate Paul’s portrayal of Judaism in terms that establish different kinds of rhetorical identification between his ancestral faith and Gentile paganism. The texts to be explored are: 1 Thessalonians 2.14-16; Galatians 4.1-11; Philippians 3.2-3, 18-19; Romans 1-2 and Colossians 3.8-23. While, at first glance, Paul’s ability to make such an identification should give pause to those who are keen to describe Paul’s theology in terms of continuity with Judaism, such a rhetorical strategy is commonplace within 2nd Temple Judaism itself. Thus, the nature of Paul’s theologizing, in this instance, demonstrates his location within the various competing identity claims within Judaism, yet contains the ingredients that explain the development of early Christian identity into a tertius genus.
Two reasons for posting details of this recent Conference on Enoch and literature relating to Enoch (primarily Jubilees and 1 Enoch) - information care of April De Conick over at Forbidden Gospels. First, it was held at the Monastery at Camaldoli, which I have visited (Grazie a Zia Alma) and, frankly, is about the perfect place to hold an academic conference (fantastic food, good walking, Tuscany ... you know what I mean). Full information about the programme and papers can be found here.
Secondly, Rob is probably not on email yet, so this is a way of remembering to refer him to those papers that relate to Genesis 6.1-4. Full texts of papers are only available to participants, but authors' emails are also given. Here are the relevant ones for the Giants / Watchers tradition:
The Myth of the Watchers and the Problem of Intermarriage in Jubilees
Luca Arcari, University of Naples, Italy (email)
Jubilees and Sexual Transgression (abstract |
William Loader, Murdoch University, Western Australia, Australian Research Council (email) The Origin of Evil in Jubilees (abstract | paper) Loren Stuckenbruck, University of Durham, England (email)
Angels, Demons, and the Dangerous Ones in Between: Reflections on Enochic
and Mosaic Traditions in Jubilees (abstract |
Annette Reed, McMaster University, Canada (email)
Theology and Demonology in Jubilees and Enoch (abstract | paper)
Ida Fröhlich, Catholic University Budapest, Hungary (email)
The Evil Spirits in Jubilees and the Spirits of the Bastards in 4Q510, with Some Remarks on Others Qumran Manuscripts (abstract |
Giovanni Ibba, University of Siena, Italy (email)
Anyone fancy organising a NT / Baptist kind of conference in an Italian Monastery and Hermitage, let me know.
A recent conference, held at the Elstal Baptist Seminary in Germany, explored issues of Baptist ecclesiology and identity. The particular focus was on the notion of 'autonomy' of the local church and how this affects the relation between local and intermediate expressions of church (often called 'structures' - an insufficiently ecclesial word in my view). A report of the conference can be found here. The statement that emerged from it is here. Best of all, the main papers given and the conference are available in .pdf (response papers can also be found here). They are:
I am in the initial phase of thinking through my sabbatical plans for next year. There is much writing to be done (of which more in due course), and I have sadly had to turn down the chance to be with friends at Whitley College in Melbourne. However, there are a number of interesting things happening in Prague in the latter half of that month. The Baptist Historical Society is apparently holding a Centenary Conference to begin with (no details as yet). Then the Baptist World Alliance rolls into town for its annual Gathering, with the relevant Study Commissions (I last went to the BWA meetings in 2002 in Seville). This will be followed by a meeting of CEBTS (Consortium of European Baptist Theological Seminaries) and BICTE (Baptist International Conference for Theological Educators). The latter conference may well be around the whole issue of Baptist origins: 2009 will see the 400th year anniversary of the founding of the Smyth-Helwys congregation in Amsterdam, the first English Baptist congregation albeit on foreign soil. Concurrently with this world Baptist jamboree, there is an International Bonhoeffer conference, also in Prague, and being sponsored by (among others) The International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague. The Bonhoeffer conference is entitled "Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Theology for Today's World: A Way Between Fundamentalism and Secularism?". Details can be found here. When marking is finished I will try and put together a proposal for this conference on Bonhoeffer's use of the Bible.
So, sounds like a good few days in a great city. Hopefully I might get to meet one or two international readers of this blog there.
Several people have commented on the lack of blogging - it will get worse before it gets better: writing and marking deadlines to meet first. I did come across this, though, yesterday. It is from David Bentley Hart's The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? which is a book I very much admire, from a theologian whose prose is difficult but oftentimes exquisitely beautiful or exquisitely barbed. But I had to chuckle at this line, found in the midst of the 'bibliographical note' at the conclusion of the essay:
"The text of Voltaire's Poëme sur le désastre de Lisbonne that I consulted for 1/III is found in volume eight of the 1866 edition of the Œuvres Complètes published in forty-six volumes by the Libraire de L. Hachette et Cie, not because it is any more trustworthy than the modern Pléiade edition, but simply because that is the edition of Voltaire's works that I happen to possess. I do not believe that the text of the poem differs in any notable respect between the two editions (with the exception, perhaps, of the pleasantly archaic diacritical mark that bedizens the word poëme in the ealier edition and that I retain out of instinctive atavism)., pp.105-106