Thursday, 3 July 2014

My ISBL Vienna papers

I fly to Vienna tomorrow to take part in the International Society of Biblical Literature conference. I'll be giving three papers. For one of them I will be part of a panel reviewing Hebrew Bible/Old Testament: The History of Its Interpretation: III/1: The Nineteenth Century (ed. Magne Sæbø; Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013). Other panel members will be Mark Elliot, Michael Legaspi, and Manfred Oeming.

Here are the abstracts of the other two papers:

Comparison of Childs’ Exodus and Isaiah Commentaries: continuity and development

A common misconception of the development of Brevard Childs’ thought is that he first started out as a historical critic, interested in diachronic questions and the history of tradition, and later took a more theological turn, eschewing diachronic analysis to focus exclusively on the final form of the text. This view, however, misunderstands the way Childs’ appreciation of the final form was grounded in a certain kind of diachronic consideration, one which factored the reality of the theological source of the tradition into his appreciation of its nature. It was this that led to his later development of final-form interpretation. As such, Childs’ later work as an interpreter of the canonical context is a natural extension of his earlier work as an interpreter of the development of that context. Yet these two dimensions—the “diachronic” and the “synchronic” (terms Childs hardly used)—remained intimately connected throughout his career. My thesis is that the real development in his thought involves less an abandonment of the uncertainties of speculative reconstructions in favour of the church’s traditional and apparently more objective text than a growing appreciation of and confidence in talking about the ontological reality of God as a factor in the Bible’s creation. This thesis can be illustrated by comparing the only two full-length scholarly commentaries written Childs, both of which roughly bracket his career. His first commentary on Exodus was written during 1970s before he had even coined the term “canonical approach,” the second on Isaiah was written in 2002 towards the end of his life, at a time when the term “canonical” had started to become problematic for him. This paper will demonstrate that in both commentaries Childs worked with the same exegetical logic. The difference is that in the latter commentary Childs’ relative decrease in confidence about the reliability or usefulness of diachronic reconstruction is accompanied by an increase in his confidence in using theo-ontological categories to describe the forces at work in the production of the text.

The Canonical Function of Psalm 24 and Isaiah 33

Scholars have long noted a generic connection between Psalm 24 and Isaiah 33: both texts appear to have drawn on a now lost liturgical ritual associated with the temple in order to render a new message. Yet how are we to gauge that new message?  Over the last few decades there has been an increasing awareness that often latterly textualized Biblical traditions received their form and function within the context of a broader literary whole, relating to that whole in various ways. The argument of this paper is that Ps 24 and Isa 33 not only draw on a common generic source, they have also received a similar canonical function within the context of their respective books, the first book of the Psalter and the book of Isaiah. This thesis will defended by describing how this ancient liturgical pattern has now been rendered according to a similar eschatological schema in both texts, and how these texts now function as summaries and hermeneutical horizons within their respective literary contexts for the material that both precedes and follows them. In conclusion the question will be raised as to the relation between cultic experience and canonical form.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Conference: Christianity and Freedom

This Thursday I will be flying to Rome to participate in a conference on Christianity and Freedom, sponsored by Georgetown University as part of the Religious Freedom Project. The sessions will be streamed live on the Internet; those who are interested can watch it here: My colleague Duane Alexander Miller and I are on the panel called "Religious Freedom in the Lion's Den?" and it starts at 4:30 p.m. on Friday. The agenda for the entire conference can be found here: What we say will be based on our experience of living in Israel and field work carried out in the West Bank in 2013. The research will then be published in the ensuing conference volume.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Bibliography for Arabophone Christianity in Israel-Palestine

I have just spent the past eight months working at Nazareth Evangelical Theological Seminary. One task I set myself was to compose as exhaustive a bibliography as possible on "contextual Palestinian theology." On closer analysis this category turned out to be too vague, so I renamed it "Bibliography for Arabophone Christianity in Israel-Palestine." It's published in the seminary's journal Mary's Well Occasional Publications and can be downloaded here:

I've already started working on a revised edition. Please do share anything that I have missed. I would particularly welcome material in Arabic and Hebrew. Please read the introduction, however, in order to understand the parameters I have set myself.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Forthcoming article: The Coherence of Psalm 24

JSOT have accepted an essay of mine for publication. Here's the title and the abstract:

The Coherence of Psalm 24

Psalm 24 is often seen to be a ‘baffling’ psalm due to the juxtaposition of what seems to be thematically and structurally disparate material (creation, vv. 1-2; torah and sanctuary vv. 3-6; divine warrior and sanctuary, vv. 7-10). Most unusual, however, is the juxtaposition of the final two stanzas, for they seem to cancel each other out. In vv. 3-6, human beings desire access to God within the sanctuary, whereas in vv. 7-10 God himself is about to access the same location. Various poetic clues indicate that these two entrance scenes have been intentionally brought into parallelism with each other, yet no satisfactory answer has been presented as to the meaning of this manoeuvre. In this article, a poetic analysis is proposed that goes beyond those proffered thus far by looking at the way in which the ‘poetic function’ creates a degree of ‘narrative’ self-referentiality within the psalm, in particular through its representation of time and space. The conclusion is that the Psalm is a recalibration of liturgical material in terms of a grasp of the structure of the divine economy.
Key words: Psalm 24; Hebrew poetics; tradition history; theological interpretation; divine economy; synchronic/diachronic; creation; torah; eschatology

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Structure and Theology of Psalms 15-24

An essay of mine of the subject of the title will be published by Biblica in 2013. Here's my conclusion:
Conclusion: Structure and Theology in Psalms 15–24
This article has sought to contribute to our understanding of the final form of Pss 15–24 by drawing our attention to significant features of its structure and thematic arrangement and by analysing these elements in terms of Brunner-Traut’s theory of ancient “aspective” perception. The initial observation that Pss 15–24 consists of a chiasm set up the framework for identifying sets of inter-psalm relationships. The theory of semantic intensification as a characteristic of Biblical parallelism helped us identity a series of consistent semantic shifts between the parallel psalms within this arrangement: In short, the content of each psalm was consistently set within a more developed theological context. Finally, Brunner-Traut’s thesis that juxtaposition functions to elucidate a single reality helped us identify the presence of a single pattern underlying the diversity and thereby unifying it, namely the eschatological narrative of God’s consummation of creation by bringing his righteous king, and with him the people of whom he is a type and for whom he is a redeemer, into the reality across the threshold of his temple.
When read on their own as self-contained units, this theological context escapes the reader’s attention. When read with an eye for unifying thematic arrangement, however, we can begin to see how the editors of this collection perceived its fragmentary elements to cohere within a greater theological reality that encompassed their own day and age, namely the divine economy. In short, the bridge between the past and present was ontological, for it was grounded in God’s unchanging ways. If my reading holds any water, then it can help us understand the ways in which Israel’s literary heritage was shaped in order to function as scripture for future generations of the faithful. In its interplay between the framing psalms of theological orientation (Pss 15; 19; 24) and those dominated by disorientation and reorientation (Pss 16–18; 20–23), future readers were provided with a means for contextualizing their own faithful struggle, regardless of their shifting historical, cultural, and institutional contexts. 

Saturday, 28 April 2012

SBL Chicago

It looks like I'll be visiting my first American SBL this year. The Institute of Biblical Research has a so-called "Friday afternoon session" designed to support budding scholars. It works differently to a typical SBL session. Instead of giving papers, the participants write an article which is then posted on the IBR website for all to read. Here are some papers from last year's session. At the meeting we each provide a summary of the content of the paper and then the rest of the time is dedicated to discussing the paper with those who have read it. My paper is on "The Coherence of Psalm 24." It would be nice to see some of you there! (Oh, and I'd appreciate any tips on cheap accommodation ... ).

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

How does Psalm 2 relate to Psalm 1?

It is now generally accepted that the opening two Psalms of the Psalter function as a "gateway" to the book as a whole. Not only do they contain the two main themes that will be unfolded in what follows (Torah, Ps 1, and kingship, Ps 2), shared vocabulary and themes indicates that they have been purposely juxtaposed with each other. The most evident example is the framing function of the felicitation "Happy is the one who ... ."

If we have a case of two "Zwillingspsalmen" (twin-psalms), how are they to be related? Matthias Millard (in Die Komposition des Psalters) argues that Ps 2 specifies the identity of the righteous one in Ps 1: The righteous one is the king. The consequence is that he evil ones of Ps 1 are the enemy kings of Ps 2.

But is this correct? I would have thought that the parallel created by the framing אשרי ("happy who") clauses means that it is the torah and the king that are being set in parallel and not a would-be righteous individual and the king. What is being juxtaposed are two means of "redemption": kingship and torah. Happy is the one who imbibes the Law and happy the one who seeks shelter in the (Messianic) King.

In other words, the function of the juxtaposition is to portray two sides of a single coin answering the question: "How can we be happy?" [*]

What do you think?

[*] This also implies that Patrick Miller's interpretation does not go far enough. He argues that Ps 1 qualifies Ps 2 Deuteronomy-like by saying that whoever the king is, he must be like the individual in Ps 1. This is no doubt true, but I don't get the impression that this is the function of the juxtaposition. The issue is how the reader may be happy, not what is the nature of true kingship.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Betet für die arabischen Christen

Der arabische Pastor einer Gemeinde, die mit meiner Gemeinde verbunden ist, hat dieses Video weitergeleitet und ich leite es auch gerne weiter.

Hier ist ein Artikel über Youcef Nadarkhani. Der Artikel informiert auch, wie man eine Petition an die deutsche Regierung schreiben kann. ICGM haben einen Appelvorschlag hier. For a detailed Wikipedia on the man, go here.

Ich habe in meinem Leben bisher fünf Iraner kennengelernt, die aus ihrer Heimat aus Glaubensgründen geflohen sind, und zwei irakische Familien, die aus den selben Gründen ihre Heimat verlassen mussten. Ich kenne auch zwei ehemalige Muslime, die in sehr westlichen Familien aufgewachsen sind. Sie haben die leichtere Variante bekommen: Ausschluss aus der Familie und offizielle Enterbung. 

I recently watched this interesting debate between Dawkins and a Muslim. Dawkins asks the cleric what the punishment for apostasy (i.e. ceasing to be a Muslim) is. It is interesting to see how both he and another interlocuter avoid the question until forced to answer it in the end. 

According to Wikipedia, this mainstream cleric's view is the majority position.

I'd be delighted is someone more informed than I could tell me if this is a misrepresentation of mainstream Sharia on this issue.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

A question concerning Yhwh and his gates (Ps 24:7-10)

I posted the following question on Jim West's Biblical Studies discussion list and it has generated an interesting conversation. The question itself, however, remains unanswered so I post it here in case anyone else can help me further:
In Ps 24:7-10, the (personified?) gates of the temple are being calledupon to open up so that the King of Glory, i.e. Yhwh, may enter into thetemple. They are called the "pithhe 'olam" (פְּתְחֵי עוֹלָם)  i.e. "eternal gates" or "gatesof eternity." 'Olam (eternity) is generally interpreted to refer to God'sdimension of reality, "heaven" in a sense. The gates are "eternal" becausethey are the gates of the temple, that place where heaven is madeimmediately present. One could also interpret the construct form as "gatesof eternity," i.e. they are the gates which open up onto God's dimension(rather like "the gate of heaven" in Gen 28:17).
My problem is that the person who is supposed to enter through these gatesinto this reality is God himself. In other words, there is a heavenlyreality behind the gates which is currently devoid of his presence and intowhich he will now enter.
Some say that God's presence in the OT is dynamic, so that there is no
contradiction to seeing him as being "in" the temple and "outside" it at thesame time. But most interpreters believe that vv. 7-10 embody some kind ofritual in which Yhwh-perhaps symbolized by a physical object such as theArk-is being transported into the temple.
My question is this: How am I to conceptualize what is going on here? Whatdoes it mean for Yhwh to enter his own reality in the way portrayed here? Ifthe temple already contains "heaven", does it make no qualitative differenceif Yhwh is behind the gates or not? And if not, why bother make him enter atall? And if there is a qualitative difference, such that Yhwh's enteringconsummates something (in Kgs for example, the temple only becomes holyafter he has entered it), why are they called 'eternal' before he isentering? Are there ancient parallels in which the temple is treated asalready being a heavenly abode before its occupant enters? Or am I justmissing something?