Tim Beal on the “death” of the Bible . . .

This is so last month, I know, but I I think this article warrants mention. TimBeal posted an op-ed entitled “The Bible is Dead; Long Live the Bible” at the Chronicle website. This is a brilliant piece, and I resonate with much of it. I’m actually strongly considering having my intro students read it as a discussion piece for our sessions on what the Bible is (or, “how to read the Bible without throwing your brain in the toilet!”).

Here are a few notable quotables from Beal’s article, to give you a flavor, along with some brief commentary. He is, in my view, right on the money:

But you can’t fail at something you’re not trying to do. To ask whether the Bible fails to give consistent answers or be of one voice with itself presumes that it was built to do so. That’s a false presumption, rooted no doubt in thinking of it as the book that God wrote. On the contrary, biblical literature is constantly interpreting, interrogating, and disagreeing with itself. Virtually nothing is asserted someplace that is not called into question or undermined elsewhere. Ultimately it resists conclusion and explodes any desire we might have for univocality.

[ . . . ]

Given how many hands have been involved in so many contexts over such a long time in the history of this literature, can we honestly imagine that no one noticed such glaring discrepancies? Can we believe, for example, that the seam between the first and second creation stories in Genesis, as well as the many other seams found throughout the Torah, were not obvious? That if agreement and univocality were the goal, such discrepancies would not have been fixed and such rough seams mended long ago? That creation stories would have been made to conform or be removed? That Job would’ve been allowed to stand against Moses? That Gospel mix-ups concerning who saw what after Jesus’s resurrection would have been left to stand? That Judas would have died twice, once by suicide and once by divine disgorge? And so on. Could all those many, many people involved in the development of biblical literature and the canon of Scriptures have been so blind, so stupid? It’s modern arrogance to imagine so.

[ . . . ]

The Bible canonizes contradiction. It holds together a tense diversity of perspectives and voices, difference and argument—even, and especially, when it comes to the profoundest questions of faith, questions that inevitably outlive all their answers. The Bible interprets itself, argues with itself, and perpetually frustrates any desire to reduce it to univocality.

[ . . . ]

Attachment to the cultural icon of the Bible is similarly debilitating. It’s a false image, an idol. If you see it, kill it. The Bible is dead; long live the Bible. Not as the book of answers but as a library of questions, not as a wellspring of truth but as a pool of imagination, a place that hosts our explorations, rich in ambiguity, contradiction, and argument. A place that, in its failure to give clear answers and its refusal to be contained by any synopsis or conclusion, points beyond itself to mystery, which is at the heart of the life of faith.

These lines get at what I think  is one of the most important points I try to communicate to my students: the Bible is a conversation. It doesn’t “say” anything (at this point early in the semester I turn my Bible sideways, ask the class to be very quiet, and proceed to open and close the Bible repeatedly, showing that indeed it “says” nothing). The Bible does not settle the conversation; the Bible invites us into the conversation, asks to hear our voice, and presses us to wrestle with the topic and its complexity. The conversation is what is important. Indeed, the Bible is a “library of questions,” and to wrestle with them–and by extension with the very essence of who we are as individuals and as communities–is a supreme act of fidelity, not only to oneself, but also, I believe, to God.


Books I Will Be Reading this Year (Part Deux)

(Ok, not everyone may get the Hot Shots movie reference in the title; such is life).
Back in December I POSTED a list of books I plan to read in 2011. Well, a fourth of the way into the year and I thought I’d check up on how well I’ve done on that front. All in all, not too bad. Here are some stats for the year thus far:
Books I’ve Read (in their entirety) This Year
Carolyn Sharp, Wrestling the Word: The Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Believer
A very fine book that addresses very well, and in a readable format (though undergrads may get lost in the vocabulary at times), the diversity of ways one can read the Old Testament. Written with cleverness and critique, though the second part of the subtitle–“and the Christian Believer”–seems to be a less prominent motif in the book. It reads, to me, more like an enjoyable survey and analysis of various methods (no easy task to make that interesting!), and less a way to relate the HB to the Christian faith.
Terence Fretheim, The Pentateuch
Vintage Fretheim, tackling the issue of the Pentateuch in a readable, introductory way. And while some of my students did not like the book so much, I still think it presents one of the most readable–and thought-provoking–on the topic for undergrads.
Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God
I posted HERE about my utter disappointment with this book. I am glad to have read it, though, given that I have about two potential book projects in my head, one of which is to address this idea of Old Testament ethics that seems so hot right now. Copan’s is one attempt to address the difficulty . . . terribly inadequately, in my view.
Jack Lundbom, The Hebrew Prophets: An Introduction
I have mixed feelings about this book. It does a very very very fine job of discussing the hallmarks of what makes a prophet, but his treatments of the actual prophets are quite unsatisfactory to me. This isn’t to Lundbom doesn’t know his stuff–he surely does! But the majority of the treatments of each individual prophet did little more than say “Ezekiel does X in chapter X.”
Books I am Currently Reading
Terence Fretheim, God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation
Joel Lohr, Chosen and Unchosen: Conceptions of Election in the Pentateuch and Jewish-Christian Interpretation
Eryl Davies, The Immoral Bible: Approaches to Biblical Ethics
Joel Burnett, Where is God? Divine Absence in the Hebrew Bible
Ron Hendel (ed.), Reading Genesis: Ten Methods
Books I still plan to read this year . . .
Mark Boda, A Severe Mercy: Sin and its Remedy in the Old Testament
Brevard Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments
Carolyn Sharp (ed.), Disruptive Grace: Reflections on God, Scripture, and the Church, by Walter Brueggemann
David Lamb, God Behaving Badly
Jerome Creach, The Destiny of the Righteous in the Psalms
John Goldingay’s 3-volume Old Testament Theology
Mark Smith, The Priestly Vision of Genesis One
William Brown, The Seven Pillars of Creation
Anathea Portier-Young, Apocalypse Against Empire: Theologies of Resistance in Early Judaism

What do you think of my reading list? And how are your ‘reading resolutions’ going so far this year?

Carolyn Sharp on “naively performed” historical-critical inquiry of the Bible

In Carolyn Sharp’s new book Wrestling the Word (which I am hoping to use in the future for some classes), she addresses in her opening chapter the question of “What’s at Stake in Different Ways of Reading?” I found her comments about historical-critical inquiry to be particularly interesting (perhaps because I share many of them), yet I should point out that Sharp quotes John Barton’s  quite unflattering remarks about postmodern biblical interpretation . . . and so the knife cuts both ways.

Sharp writes the following about the difficulties and problems of historical-critical interpretation “naively practiced” (18-19):

1. Historical critics are sometimes unduly influenced by the views of those who wielded political power in the societies under investigation.

2. Historical critics sometimes confuse the views of biblical characters and narrators with what may have actually happened in history (i.e., they “can be startlingly naive about the relationship between text and context, missing the subtleties with which literary texts use misidrection, conflicting viewpoints, irony, and other artful means to tell stories,” p. 20)

3. Historical critics sometimes seem unaware of their own cultural and epistemological biases. (To expand, Sharp writes “But biblical hisorical inquiry, as it has traditionally been formulated, has made something of a fetish out of purportedly ‘neutral’ and ‘objective’ scholarship, dismissing the biases and values of the historian as irrelevant. Bracketing one’s own opinions is one thing. Pretending one’s own biases do not exist is quite another, and that latter approach has been a hallmark of biblical historical-critical scholarship in many quarters,” p. 20).

And . . . that’s where my Amazon books preview cuts me off (I must buy this book!). Some sharp words from Sharp!

(I cannot resist comment . . . that is one beautiful and compelling cover! Well done whoever designed that!).


What’s the most ‘valuable’ book you have on your shelf?

And why? Value may be construed in whatever terms you like (sentimental, monetary, scholarly, etc.).

I would have to declare a three-way tie for me:

1) A personally (and personalized) autographed copy of Walter Brueggemann’s Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy (I have two additional personal and personalized autographed volumes by him as well).

2) A personally (and personalized) autographed copy of E. P. Sanders’ seminal Paul and Palestinian Judaism (I also have autographed copies of his two volumes on the historical Jesus; I had him sign these for me while I was at Duke; he retired my second year there).

3) An autographed copy of the novel The Oath by Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel. This was a gift from a friend about 10 years ago, though I trust it is authentic.

Hopefully by the end of the year I will have a fourth book to add to this list, when my own, first book, is officially released with Eisenbrauns!

Quotation of the Day: On the Danger of Being a Biblical Theologian

I’m working on finishing up my RBL review of the Brenner, Lee, and Yee edited Genesis as part of Fortress Press’ Texts @ Contexts series.  In going through the volume again, I came across this line from Carole Fontaine in her essay “Here Comes This Dreamer: Reading Joseph the Slave in Multicultural and Interfaith Contexts”:

Aside from the discord of being part of a trophy “minority”–religious scholars who will speak up–my sense of discontinuity is not simply at discovery that being a biblical theologian is enough to get you many death threats, if you do it properly.  Rather, I read with groups who, unlike my Christian seminarians, really don’t have much stake in the outcome.  Quite frankly, they want me to read “for” them, or “to” them, not read “with them” . . . (133).

Very poignant and powerful words.  I consider myself a biblical theologian (or at least an Old Testament theologian); we shall see if the death threats begin rolling in after my dissertation is published!!  But on a serious note, Fontaine’s words do attest to the gravity of a very important task.

A Thought-Provoking Quotation on the Bible and Theology

Most of you know of my interest in OT theology.  I have recently been reading through the volume Biblical Theology: Introducing the Conversation and in the first essay Ben Sommer, in describing the agenda for a (Jewish) Dialogical Biblical theology, writes the following:

“The Bible does not present a doctrine so much as it endorses an agenda.  Postbiiblical literature does not find a harmonizing spot on the continuum between polarities that affects a compromise but insists on maintaining the polarity itself” (50).

I can resonate with these words quite strongly; whenever someone says to me “but the Bible says” my usual, initial response is “where?”  The point is, the Bible contains a plurality of voices, sometimes in tension.  Those familiar with my work know I don’t regard this as a bad thing at all; in fact, I take it as a vital component of the beauty, power, and resilience of the text.  But I think Sommer’s quotation does a nice job of summing up my basic sentiments: the biblical texts invites readers to a conversation, the multiplicity of voices and viewpoints of which is matched by the polyvalence and tension of the biblical text itself.  Post-biblical work (such as apostolic fathers, the Mishnah or Midrashic exegesis) do not settle on doctrinal, orthodox tenets but rather continue the conversation, wrestling with the same questions and tensions we wrestle with today.

More New Books from the HOT Book Fair!!

See HERE for my original post on this topic.  Today was $8.00 for a full bag of books, your choice, at the HOT book fair.  So, my wife, son, and I returned.  And I was surprised to find a few more volumes still of interest to me.  Here is what I picked up today . . .

Eduard Schweitzer, The Good News According to Matthew

Martin Buber, The Eclipse of God

Martin Buber, I and Thou

Bernhard Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament

Matthews and Benjamin, Old Testament Parallels

Graham Stanton (ed), Interpreting Matthew

S.R. Driver, An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament

Hawthorne, Philippians: Themes (WBC)

W.D. Davies, The Sermon on the Mount

Stephen Harries, Introduction to the New Testament

Some good finds in my view; I was especially pleased to find the Buber volumes.

Tons of New Books! My Trip to the HOT Book Sale 2009

This is the third year I have attended the Heart of Texas/Friends of the Library Book Sale.  There are over 100,000 books available, organized in two huge buildings.  I was able to get some great religion titles . . . all of those I list here I got today, and for only about $30.00!

Hebrew Bible/Old Testament
Georg Fohrer, Introduction to the Old Testament
John H. Tullock, The Old Testament Story. 2nd ed.
Paul R. House, Old Testament Survey
G.W. Anderson, The History and Religion of Israel
Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel: Religious Institutions
Karen Jobes, NIV Application Commentary: Esther

New Testament
Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus
Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus
Rudolf Bultmann, Jesus and the Word
Wayne Meeks (ed)., The WRitings of St. Paul
John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography
John Dominic Crossan, Who Killed Jesus?
Gunther Bornkamm, Paul
Alan Richardson, An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament
Gerd Theissen, Fortress Introduction to the New Testament
F.F. Bruce, New Testament History
Norman Perrin, The Kingdom of God in the Teaching of Jesus
C.H. Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom
Robert H. Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament
Kittel (ed)., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Vol. 2.

Dead Sea Scrolls
Millar Burrows, The Dead Sea Scrolls

Reference Works
Whiston, The Life and Works of Flavius Josephus
The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. E-J.
The Broadman Bible Commentary: Luke-John.

Richard L. Rubenstein, After Auschwitz
Elie Wiesel, A Jew Today
Martin Buber, The Prophetic Faith
Mordecai M. Kaplan, Judaism without Supernaturalism: The Only Alternative to Orthodoxy and Secularism


Nice, eh?  I’ll be going back on Sunday, when it is $8.00 to fill a brown paper bag with whatever I want!

Media Resource: Audio and Video Lectures by Biblical Scholars (from Baylor’s Truett Seminary)

See HERE.  You can hear a whole host of lectures from scholars such as Walter Brueggemann, Ben Witherington, Richard Hays, Dale Allison, John Barclay, Charles Talbert, Eugene Petersen, Bruce Longenecker, NT Wright, Gustavo Gutierrez, and Jurgen Moltmann.  These are a wonderful resource for students and scholars alike.  I am, as you may suspect, listening to my friend Brueggemann at present.

What Scholars are Fans of Professional Wrestling? Towards a “Canonical” List

Many of my regular readers will no doubt be aware that one of my idiosyncracies is that I am a big professional fan.  Indeed, I have been for the past 20 years.  I have always been a bit of an anomaly to many given I am a student, now scholar, of the biblical text who watches professional wrestling . . . no pun intended . . . religiously.  But in the past few years it has been brought to my attention that there exists a small quorum of scholars who are indeed professional wrestling fans.  Thus far I have compiled a quite modest sized list.  Myself.  Patrick Miller had been rumored for a while, and Carol Newsom of Emory recently corroborated this point.  Similarly, I had heard that Walter Brueggemann was a fan; I can now confirm that is not the case.  He has told me he has watched but does not consider himself a fan.

I also faintly recall from an earlier post on Bryan Bibb’s blog (I think) that a great many Princeton folk are wrestling fans.  Perhaps Bryan can weigh-in . . . I don’t recall if Bryan himself is a fan, but I do recall Rolf Jacobsen of Luther Seminary’s name coming up. 

I will continue to update this list as more names come up . . . stories, anecdotes, and other germane matters are welcome:

Biblical Scholars who are Pro Wrestling Fans

John E. Anderson – Baylor University (fan since Jan 19, 1990)
          *All-time favorite wrestler: Hulk Hogan
          *Current favorite wrestler: Shawn Michaels

Patrick Miller – Princeton Theological Seminary

Rolf Jacobson – Luther Seminary (former fan)
          *Favorite wrestlers: Baron Von Raschke, Mad Dog Vachon, Road Warriors

James Crossley – University of Sheffield