Monday, February 16, 2015

Now in print

 My apologies for the hiatus.  But we're back.  Here are a couple of items that have been put in print since then.

 My article on the motivations for Encratite prohibitions in early Christianity was published by Journal of Theological Studies in October.  The article along with the whole current issue is currently available here.  Here's the abstract: 

The most prominent accounts of encratism identify it as an early Christian ascetical sect that refrained from sex, and possibly also wine and meat. Scholars usually give protological speculation as the reason for these prohibitions: the prohibition of marriage and sex is linked with speculation on the state of humanity and/or the world from the beginning of creation. This article questions that assumption, and, through a close examination of the evidence of early Christian heresiologists, possible cultural contexts, and certain apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, instead argues that encratism was marked by several motivations, of which the protological was perhaps one. The evidence from the ancient heresiologists and apocryphal Acts points to at least four potential motivations for encratite prohibitions: Hellenistic moral philosophy, demonology, social demarcation, and Pythagorean ethics.

 Also my review of Gordon Campbell's Reading Revelation was published just last month in Modern Believing.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Now in (e-)print

My review of Experientia, Volume 2 has been posted at the Review of Biblical Literature website. 

A brief excerpt:

"This volume offers an array of voices to think with, conversation partners to engage for those interested in examining ancient religious experience and the texts that reflected and elicited them. What it lacks in coherence it makes up for in verve. Experimentation may not provide the solid results we might desire, but it might just show us which paths are worth taking and which should remain untrod."

If you're interested, read the review.  If you're still interested after that, buy the book here or at Amazon

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Now in print

What does Karl Barth have in common with John Wesley, Jacob Taubes, Stanley Hauerwas, and the Coen Brothers?  To find out take a look at what just rolled off the presses at Pickwick. 

The Karl Barth Blog Conference of 2010 is now in print, including a modest contribution from myself.  If Barth interests you, you should pick up a copy.  There are some very stimulating essays in the volume.  Travis McMaken has posted the announcement over at DET.  And the book is up on Wipf & Stock's page

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Abgar Legend: From Locative Foundation to Identity in Locative Voice

Among the faithful of the Assyrian Church of the East (ACOE) it is well-known fact that their traditional liturgical language—Syriac—is “the language Jesus spoke.”  (Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic, after all, unlike Greek and Latin.)  Among the faithful of the ACOE it is also a well-known fact that Jesus founded the church in Osrohene (Edessa) in Syria around the year 30 CE in his correspondence with King Abgar V Ukama.  Well, actually the church was more formally established when the apostle Addai was sent to Edessa (either by the apostle Thomas or by Jesus himself) to cure Abgar of his disease after Jesus had been crucified and resurrected.  At any rate, the ACOE was established by Jesus, through the apostles’ authority, immediately after Jesus’ earthly life.  Among the points of pride the faithful of the ACOE tally to their church’s credit, this is among the most important.  Jesus did not correspond with Tiberius Caesar, nor deliberately send an apostle to Rome; Peter took on the task of founding the church in Rome.  But Jesus founded the church in Edessa.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Among the Gentiles

Luke Timothy Johnson’s Among the Gentiles is an illuminating comparative study.  Johnson’s goal is to demonstrate that although Greco-Roman religion and early Christianity disagreed on many specific beliefs and practices, their ways of being religious (i.e. their approaches to divine power) were fundamentally congruous.  

In the first three chapters Johnson addresses the debate to which he hopes to contribute, the method and perspective he follows, and the model he employs.  Tracing the polemic of Christianity against “pagan” religion from the first century CE to the present, Johnson suggests in the first chapter that such debates about the relationship between the two religious complexes have proven unfruitful and not a little dissimulating.  Chapter two outlines a fresh approach to the discussion from the field of religious studies.  Johnson provides a definition of religious experience that understands religion as a collection of human responses to what is perceived as ultimate power (often referred to throughout the book as “divine dynāmis”), a definition he has also argued for elsewhere.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Pauline Soteriology: Theosis or Deification (Part II: M. David Litwa)

"Today, biblical scholarship on deification is more or less dominated by theological discourse and presuppositions.  In this climate, it is tempting to simply focus on Christian forms of deification when treating Paul.  I am convinced, however, that scholars will never understand Paul and deification until they open themselves up to honest historical inquiry about other, larger discourses of deification in the Greco-Roman world.  ...If we are going to achieve a truly historical understanding of deification in the Greco-Roman world (including Christian deification), it seems to me that scholars need to be more sympathetic to ancient forms of thought.  In modern theology, the very way we think about humans and God(s) tends to preclude deification.  ...In this study I try--as best I can--to peer behind centuries of Christian theological discourse about deification.  But the road is hard.  Some of the texts are scattered and unfamiliar.  My argument requires deep and sympathetic listening to Greco-Roman sources and the careful reconstruction of ancient modes of thought.  ...The best reader of this study is the one who will bracket later theological distinctions (e.g., the essence/energies distinction, synergy vs. sola gratia, 'natural' vs. adoptive sonship) in an effort to look at the evidence afresh and with an open mind.  Every author desires such readers, but the controversial nature of this study requires that I must ask for them" (vii-viii).

Already in the preface to his book M. David Litwa announces the difference between his approach to deification in Paul's soteriology and what he takes as the more common approach to deification in biblical scholarship.  Litwa takes a comparative, history of religions approach to the question and deliberately brackets questions raised by later theological discourse in order to understand Paul's language of deification in his historical context.  Methodologically, then, Litwa is a child of the Protestant Reformation and Enlightenment every bit as much as was F. C. Baur or Adolf von Harnack, and his study represents the continuing value of historical-critical study of early Christianity.  As with the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule Litwa undertakes to explore deification as a soteriological category for Paul not as he was later understood and employed in the Christian doctrine of theosis, but as he might have been understood in the context of the ancient Jewish and Hellenistic world of which he was a part.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Pauline Soteriology: Theosis or Deification (Part I: Ben Blackwell)

As I was entering the Judaism and Christianity in Antiquity program at the University of Virginia, I was told another entering student would be working on theosis or deification in Paul, and I thought, "That's weird."  I hope I can be forgiven such a dismissive reaction, since my interest in Paul at the time was mostly to do with the so-called apocalyptic Paul.  In Joseph Kitagawa's foreword to Peter Brown's Haskell Lectures (The Cult of the Saints), he observes, "A number of graduate students remarked to me that at the beginning of the five lectures, they had no interest in the cult of the saints at all; by their conclusion, they had more interest in that subject than in their own area of research!" (x).  I have occasionally felt the same about the work of my colleague at UVa, David Litwa.  I have already mentioned that his book, We Are Being Transformed:  Deification in Paul's Soteriology (BZNW 187; Goettingen: de Gruyter), came out earlier this year.  His intensity and tenacity in exploring the theme of deification in the ancient world and Paul is contagious.  As it turns out, though, David has not been the only one thinking along such lines.  Ben Blackwell's revised Durham dissertation, Christosis (WUNT II, vol. 314; Tuebingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011) also takes up the theme.  Indeed, there have been a few hints toward the question by Michael Gorman and Stephen Finlan, but these two volumes by Blackwell and Litwa represent the first two detailed discussions of theosis/deification as a Pauline soteriological model. One could not ask for more different approaches.  Blackwell suggests that there are two open paths for investigating the theme of theosis in Paul:  one can approach the subject either through history of religions or through history of interpretation.  Surely there are other approaches as well, but this simple schema highlights precisely the difference between Litwa and Blackwell.  In this post, and in one or two following, I will be reviewing Blackwell and Litwa, and I will offer some concluding thoughts.  Those who know my online style know that I can come off as hyper-critical.  To my mind, one of the highest compliments one can pay to an author is sharp criticism.  I trust that those under review will so take the following remarks.