Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Apocalyptic, Revelation, Daniel, and a Crazy Person

We are now approaching the final class of the Fall semester, and that means that we will be discussing the book of Revelation.  So, how should this book be read?  How about its close brother text in the Bible, Daniel?  Are these books decoder rings for the end times?

Take a look at how William Tapley, also known as the third eagle of the apocalypse and the co-prophet of the end times, reads the books of Revelation and Daniel. Oh, and don't forget the prophecy of Pope Leo XIII.

Is this how apocalyptic literature should be read?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Story and Robert McKee

I recently read a book by Donald Miller entitled A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  It is a book about the importance of story for finding meaning in our lives.  Specifically, it is about finding out what makes stories compelling and then trying to incorporate those things into one's own life.  

In the book, Miller mentions Robert McKee.  McKee is a writer who teaches people to tell stories.  He is probably most familiar to the general public through his portrayal by Brian Cox in the 2002 film Adaptation.  McKee has written books for screen writers and gives seminars on how to write screenplays.  I ran across this quote of his about story and thought I would pass it along. 
"Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact." — Robert McKee

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hyperbolic Rhetoric about the TSA screening procedures.

I have to admit, after listening to all of the hubbub over the new TSA screening procedures in the week leading up to SBL and Thanksgiving, I was concerned about taking the flight last Saturday morning.  I was flying from DFW to Atlanta and was not quite sure what to expect.  Would I have to go through what some are calling a "snoop porn" scanner?  Would I have to undergo "groping" by a frisky TSA agent. 

I must say, the rhetoric I heard the previous week on talk radio and television news programs did not come even close to my experience at the airports.  On Saturday, flying out of DFW they had a body scanner, but I saw no one walk through it.  I saw no one getting a pat down at all, let alone getting "groped."  Security seemed to be pretty much business as usual.  Shoes off, jacket off, pockets empty, laptop out of bag, through the metal detector, and on with my business.  No problem.

Leaving from Atlanta Hartsfield airport was pretty much the same experience.  The only difference was that I saw one guy have to go through the scanner.  And why was that?  Here is the conversation between this mid-forties business man and the TSA agent as best as I can remember it.

TSA Agent: Sir, are your pockets empty?
Man: Yes.
TSA Agent: Sir, I can see something in your back pocket.
Man: Oh, you mean my wallet?  (man takes out wallet)
TSA Agent: Sir, your pockets must be empty.  Please place your wallet in this bin.  Now, are your pockets empty?
Man: Yes.
TSA Agent:  Sir, what is that in your front pocket?
Man: (Takes out something I could not see), Oh, this?
TSA Agent: Sir, you pockets need to be EMPTY.  Sir, please step into the body scanner.

That was the only person I saw getting either scanned or patted down, and that was because he was being an uncooperative doofball.  So, in all, the rhetoric leading up to my two flights was incredibly inflated and hyperbolic to the extreme. 

I do not know about all of the issues concerning these new TSA screening procedures.  I am sure there are legitimate concerns on both sides.  But one thing is sure: in order to have a civil and productive conversation about this topic, the hyperbolic rhetoric must be dialed down.  As long as one side is merely yelling "pervert" at the TSA agents, constructive conversation will never be the result.  So, lets put a damper on the inflated rhetoric and start having a real conversation.  I mean really, do you think the TSA agents are getting a kick out of patting down sensitive areas.  Do you really think the TSA agent who looks at numerous metalic-looking naked images on a computer screen is really using these images fodder for sexual perversion?  No, these are just hard working Americans trying to do the best job they can to keep passengers and planes safe.  Are the scans and pat downs the best solution to our security problems?  I don't know, but I know that inflamed rhetoric that distorts the truth will not help the situation.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


It has been a long week of travel for me.  Last Friday night in Dallas, then an early Saturday morning flight to Atlanta for SBL.  Two nights in Atlanta and a late flight in on Monday night back home.  Then, a long drive to South Texas for Thanksgiving on Tuesday.  Three nights in the Valley, and then another long drive home Friday night. 

While I love traveling, there is nothing quite like home.  Last night was the first night I was able to fully enjoy how much I love being home.  I love the ratty old couch with a Keith shaped indention in it.  I love cuddling up to my wife and watching a good program on Netflix instant streaming.  I love our 20 pound lap kitty ransom firmly ensconced on my tummy.  I love watching the other kitties with their own idiosyncratic behavior.  I love sitting on the porch and enjoying a brisk Fall evening.  I love sitting at my antique roll top desk and hammering out a blog post.  I love being home.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

E-Publishing and Biblioblogging

My favorite two sessions that I attended at this past weekend's SBL conference were entitled "E-Publish or Perish" and "The Past, Present, and Future of Blogging and Online Publication."  There was some overlap to the two sessions, but here are a couple of thoughts on the presentations.

First, a very good moral issue was raised by Ehud Ben Zvi of the University of Alberta with regard to where scholars choose to publish.  If one chooses to publish via traditional print (e.g., a $150 Brill volume), that publication will have limited access.  It will be limited to those with great personal resources or with access to rich libraries.  Both of these situations limit the access of scholarship to the privileged West.  On the other hand, publishing online with open access (i.e., free), opens this resource up to everyone with a computer and internet access.  Thus, non-western and scholars in lower GDP countries can now access these materials.  It is not as if money were the issue.  For these types of publications the author does not make significant profits.  Nor does the publisher.  Instead, the $150 per volume goes into the publishing costs for such a book with a low print run and limited audience.  I thought that this moral question was intriguing.

The second issue that was raised in both sessions by Christian Brady of Penn State was the concern that online publication, especially non-traditional online publication (e.g., an iPhone/Droid app, like an interactive textbook), might not be sufficient for promotion and tenure at universities.  To this end, Brady is proposing the formation of a review committee through the SBL that could serve as a peer review committee for such digital and online publications.  A tenure committee might have no expertise to review a professors work, be it a traditional publication or a digital or online publication; they must rely on professional peer review outside of their institution.  With traditional publication, the tenure committee relies on the specific academic press or journal to provide such peer review.  Brady is proposing a review committee through the SBL which would serve the same purpose of peer review for digital/online publications. 

The third fascinating issue was whether blogs should be considered scholarship.  The general consensus was that blogs in themselves are not (usually) scholarship because they lack peer review and anyone can publish in this format.  Yet, there was also consensus that blogs play a key role in scholarship as a sort of pre-scholarship. That is, blogs serve the creative process of data collection and analysis, collaboration, organization and so on. Blogs serve as testing centers for ideas and allow for academic conversation about ideas that can in many cases become the basis for later peer reviews scholarship and publication. Michael Barber of John Paul the Great Catholic University demonstrated how his blog was essential in his research and collaboration with other scholars as he completed his dissertation.

In all, the future of online publication holds tremendous promise, but as it is still in its infancy, there are still many kinks to work out and many pitfalls to avoid.  It looks like an exciting future.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

SBL Bibliobloggers Dinner

The highlight of my weekend at SBL was certainly my chance to meet some of my favorite bibliobloggers at the Bibliobloggers dinner and the Bibliobloggers section. I got to eat dinner and have a conversation with James McGrath of Exploring Our Matrix. I got to shake hands and exchange a few words with J.R. Daniel Kirk of Storied Theology. Unfortunately I missed meeting Steve from Undeception. I heard he was at the bibliobloggers dinner but when I looked for him I could not find him.

I was too timid to talk to Mark Goodacre of NTBlog, not because I was a afraid to meet him, but I was pretty sure that if I started to talk with him I would annoyingly bombard him with questions on the Case against Q and its relation to my own current research. I thought it best to leave him be for the time.

I also met several other bloggers, including Darrel Pursiful at Dr. Platypus, Daniel and Tonya (sorry, forgot the last name), the husband and wife team at Hebrew and Greek Reader, and Paul Flesher at Religion Today.  It was great to talk with some of these fellow bloggers and pick their brains on why they blog, what platform they prefer, and what their areas of research are.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Baylor Football Recap

So, it is tempting to be discouraged after the last three games of Baylor football. We lost the last three, two of them by large margins. But, before I pull out the sackcloth and ashes, i think it would be good to put this season in perspective.

As a means of doing this, I would like to point to a preseason prediction by former Baylor Law School prof Mark Osler.

Let's see what he had to say.

"It takes a REAL optimist to think Baylor football is going to make a bowl game, and that's my prediction. Robert Griffin is back. The offensive line looks decent."

On those predictions he was right. We are going to a bowl, RGIII gkooked great, and our offensive line finally gave us a running game.

And more from Osler:

"As I figure it, there is a real chance at Baylor being 7-1 going into the Texas game. That 5-game stretch to end the season is a bear, but... up until then, the TCU game is the only one I see us most likely losing. Even if they start out 6-2, they still would have a chance to beat A & M at home to end up 7-5. Sic 'em!

Of course, the game to see this year in the Big 12 would be Texas/ Nebraska..."

Here Osler was right and wrong. We were 6-2 going into the Texas game and we finished 7-5. Where Osler really missed the mark was in predicting that UT would be s power this year. Instead they are in the conference Basement and A&M is the power. As for the game to see this year, it looks like the Oklahoma Oklahoma State game is the big one.

So, disappointment in this year, heck no. Ugh, what if... What if we had won the Tech game? What if we had shown up in the second half of the A&M game? But, no use crying over those losses. For the first time in a long time, we actually have a decent team, and we are going to a bowL, and Brooke and I will be there.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rhetoric of presentations at the SBL

In pedagogy training as teachers we are taught not to rely on a manuscript. We are taught to know our material and to talk normally. We are taught not to use jargon, but to translate our ideas into readily intelligible phrases. Yet, you arrive at the SBL expecting the opposite.
Speakers reading from a manuscript filled with jargon is the norm. Sometimes, if your mind slips and you miss a definition, the remaining minutes of a paper become an endless stream of meaningless words.

Few people can actually read from a prepared manuscript well. Bruce McCormack at Princeton Seminary is one of the only few that I have seen do this well on a regular basis. Most of the presenters at SBL don't do this well.

So, why is this necessary? I think it is a result of an unfortunate ethos at SBL. Namely an ethos of oneupmanship. Some members in the audience are like vultures ready to go in for the kill on the slightest mistake of the presenter. Therefore, to avoid any opportunity for the vultures, presenters carefully prepare their manuscripts and fill them with jargon and definitions to avoid being taken to task by members of the audience. Yet, is this the best way to move scholarship forward? I am not sure that there is an easy answer.

I do not see the ethos at SBL changing any time soon. Perhaps the answer is to take a page out of the ancient rhetorical handbooks. First, stylistically, do not fill your papers with jargon, learn to communicate with "normal" words. Second, perhaps a little practice with the rhetorical tasks of memory and delivery might be of help. Trying to memorize a paper full of jargon will immediately signal the presenter that he or she should work some more on the manuscript, to learn to communicate their ideas in a more rhetorically effective manner.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Harry Potter and Storytelling

For the first time in seven years I went to a midnight showing of a film on opening night.  I have not done this since the third Lord of the Rings movie in 2003, but last night Brooke and I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I.  Doing something you do not normally do is a good way to gain new insights and several came out of last night's experience.

The first insight is that I am getting way too old for midnight showings.

The second insight was that the movie itself was both good and bad.  It was very much in line with the previous Harry Potter movies.  The movie captured the essence of the Potter universe like the others, but also like the others, it carried little of the depth of the books.  Many plot points were tweaked, twisted, or left out completely, leaving a lover of the books with some real disappointment.

A third insight was that, as Brooke and I were sitting in the theater with about an hour and a half until movie time, I noticed how many people were staring at their smart phones, surfing the internet, playing movies, texting, tweating, etc.  I looked at myself, then over to Brooke, and saw that we were doing the same thing.  We looked at each other, I pointed out how much things had changed in the last few years, and we both decided to put our phones away and play a game.  We started by trying to name every character in the Harry Potter universe that we could think of, alternating turns, with the first person stumped to be the loser.  Brooke of course won; not only is she better with names than I am, she has also read the books much more than I have.  We then switched and played the same game with Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Alias, and our recent guilty pleasure, Friday Night Lights.

Playing this game with these TV shows as compared with Harry Potter, I noticed a fourth significant insight.  We could play the Potter game for quite some time, but we quickly ran out of characters with the TV shows.  That got me thinking about the different media for storytelling and what types of story TV and print media are good at telling.

The print version of the Harry Potter series is incredibly deep in terms of the universe it creates.  Rowling populates this world with a myriad of characters that are memorable, memorable enough to be recalled by even me who has read the books only once.  TV on the other hand yields far fewer memorable characters.  Not that TV is bad at characters.  Quite the contrary, I feel like I know and love many of the characters in TV land far better than some characters from the book world.  I love how Lost, Battlestar, and Alias tell about their main characters.  TV does this perhaps better than any other media.  Especially if the TV show has multiple seasons.  By the end of a viewing of Lost, one has had approximately 90 hours of screen time to get to know and love the characters.  But, it is only the main characters.  Print media I believe does side and fringe characters better.

So, what kind of media is best for telling stories?  I am not sure, both types have their strengths and weaknesses.  One thing I can say, TV does characters better than movies on the whole.  And Books do better than movies.  Movies are just too short.  Have you experienced any thing similar?  I would love to hear your take on this phenomenon.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What is the Gospel?

We are now discussing Paul in my Christian Scriptures class, and with Paul inevitably comes the question of what is the gospel?  Paul uses the word gospel (euangelion) 60 of the 76 times that it is used in the New Testament.  So, what is it?  For Paul, the gospel appears to be wrapped up in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  It is in Christ's death that death is defeated, the effects of Adam's sin are reversed, that the human is justified before God. 

Yet, if all of this is the case, then what does the word mean when used in the gospels?  Specifically, what "euangelion" was Jesus preaching during his lifetime?  For example, look at the following verses from the gospels:
Matt. 9:35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news (euangelion) of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.
Mark 1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news (euangelion) of God.
 Was he preaching of his death and resurrection and how it would nullify the effects of sin?  The context does not seem to support this.  In fact, whenever Jesus does talk about his own death and resurrection, people don't seem to understand.  Instead, it appears as if the gospel preached by Jesus is the coming of the Kingdom of God.  So, this raises another question, what is the Kingdom of God and is it all that different from Paul's Gospel? 

My remarks can only be preliminary, but there seem to be some similarities and differences between the Kingdom of God and Paul's gospel of the defeat of sin and death through the cross of Christ.

In the coming of the Kingdom of God, Jesus exercises authority on behalf of God.  That authority extends to the forgiveness of sins (healing of the paralytic), the natural world (nature miracles), sickness (healings), demons (exorcisms), interpretation of the law (sabbath, sermon on the mount), and even death (raising of the dead).  Of these, it appears the Paul latches on to the themes of sin and death.  Yet, does Paul nullify these other areas of the coming of the Kingdom of God.  I don't think so, instead, he focuses on the exclamation point of the Kingdom of God, namely the ultimate defeat of death and vindication of Jesus as seen in the crucifixion and resurrection.  What unfortunately often happens is that people focus on Paul's gospel, which can be very individualized, and often neglect the Kingdom of God, which is by definition communal.  What say you?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chesterton on mystery and free will

Well, we have come to Paul in my Christian Scriptures class and I was reading one of my favorite passages again, Romans 9-11.  There is so much that is fascinating in those three chapters, not the least of which if Paul's view of election, predestination, and the fate of Israel.  Predestination vs. Free will is a debate as old as Christianity (even older), and one that is not going away any time soon.  Some of the greatest thinkers in Christian history have weighed in on this issue and come to opposite conclusions. 

Back in August, I did a four part series on predestination and free will, but never finished it (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV).  I guess that is because I find the whole debate tiresome and somewhat fruitless in the end. So, instead of finishing the series, I thought I would end with a quote from G.K. Chesterton which I think sums up for me the sanity to be found in the insanity of the whole debate.
"Mysticism keeps men sane.  As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity.  The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic.  He has permitted the twilight.  He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland.  He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of today) free also to believe in them.  He has always cared more for truth than for consistency.  If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them.  His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that.  Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also."  G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, (New York: Doubleday, 1990 (originally published 1908)), 28

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mac vs. PC in a new light

I have mentioned before my current fascination with the importance of story. Today I want to look at the PC vs. Mac debate through the lens of story.  Namely, in the marketing of these products, what story are the respective companies telling and which is more compelling?

Now, I must say that I am biased, I am a Mac person.  I own an i-everything.   After four PCs, none of which lasted more than two years, I switched in 2002 to Mac and have never gone back.  My five year old iMac still runs like a champ and has never been formatted, defragged, upgraded, or any other hullabaloo. OK: mini-rant over.

Every Apple commercial that comes on, both my wife and I are riveted.  We watch in amazement, coveting the product.  The new macbook Air is the latest.  I don't even particularly want a macbook Air, in fact, if I got a new computer right now, it would be the latest macbook or macbook pro, or maybe the big iBook.  Yet, the commercial just grabs me.  Why?  I think that the answer lies in a statement a good friend of mine made in Seminary as he watched the sleep light on my new iBook pulse in and out.  He said something like this. "Wow, it looks like it is breathing.  Microsoft makes computers, Apple makes computers with a soul."

I think this is the genius of Apple's advertising.  Their products have a personality.  Notice the commercials: the products are front and center.  We see the iPad, full screen, doing what it does.  We see the macbook Air, full screen, only catching a glimpse of the hand carrying it.  We see the new iPod shuffle being moved to various parts of the ever changing clothes of the ones listening to it.  Many of these adds do not even need words.  The character of the product itself carries the commercial.

Notice that in Apple commercials, there is almost no discussion of how reliable the product is, how smooth it runs.  Leave those claims to PC, because everyone knows that PC's have reliability problems.  No, with Apple, it is a creation of a product with a personality.  And that personality: a winning, young, hip, sophisticated and versatile 20 something that is impossible not to love.  You feel like the iPhone will be your new best friend, and I must say, it comes close.

Check out this video which poignantly points out the difference between the marketing of Apple and PC products. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010


A recent controversy has surfaced concerning Amazon.com and censorship.  Amazon, for a time was carrying an ebook on their kindle platform, the title of which was "The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-Lover's Code of Conduct."  Now, I have not read the book, have no desire to read the book, but what is interesting to me is the whole issue of censorship.  The question, should Amazon carry this book? 

After an initial outcry, Amazon refused to pull the title, claiming, "Amazon.com believes it is censorship not to sell certain titles because we believe their message is objectionable."  Therefore, Amazon was setting itself up as the defender of free speech.  Since then, Amazon has relinquished this role under pressure of boycott and has pulled the title from their digital shelves.

So, has Amazon transgressed a moral code and caved in to pressure, now playing the role of a censor?  I don't think so.  Amazon is a business with the goal of making money.  Should they carry a product that may hurt their business?  Probably not.  I suppose it depends on what they think their ultimate goal is.  Is it to be the defender of free speech?  If so, perhaps they should continue to carry the title, and every other title for that matter, and run the risk of losing business.  If not, then pulling the title was the proper move. 

Yet, even so, I do not see this as Amazon crushing free speech.  The author has a right to his views, no matter how reprehensible.  The author has a right to commit these views to print, to self publish the work, and to try and find buyers.  That is free speech.  Yet the author has no right to require that his work be published by a press.  The author has no right to demand that his book be carried by any given bookseller.

What I find perhaps most interesting and ironic in this whole matter is the fact that the few people who actually raised objections to the book probably gave the book more publicity and readership than it ever would have had if it were just left quietly on the roles at Amazon.com.  Had they not threatened boycott and got the press all worked up, the book would have been doomed to obscurity, as so many books are.  Yet, with their vehement protests, the book now has a national audience, and probably enough curious readers who will purchase the book elsewhere. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Monty Python on Stoning

Yesterday in class we discussed the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr.  I would be remiss if I did not post my favorite film depiction of an ancient stoning.  While the historical details of the video might be suspect, the comic value alone is worth every deviation from historical accuracy.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How did Judas die?

There are four conflicting accounts of the death of Judas in early Christian literature.  There is one account in the Gospel of Matthew, one in the Book of Acts, one in the fragments of Papias, and one in the Gospel of Judas.  In this post I will first compare the canonical texts and then follow up with the fragment of Papias.  All three of these accounts have Judas dying a violent death in retribution for his actions in life.  The reason I am not touching on the Gospel of Judas account is because it presents, in a prescient vision of Judas, the opposite sentiment, namely that Judas died as an innocent, stoned by the other disciples.

Let us first take up Matthew's account: Matt. 27:3-10
 10 When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5 Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. 6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.” 7 After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners. 8 For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”
There are a few things to notice here.  First, Judas is repentant, he feels bad about what he has done.  The second is the thirty pieces of silver.  This comes from the Old Testament, from the book of Zechariah, and not Jeremiah as Matthew claims.  Third, Judas hangs himself.  Fourth, there is a field that is bought with the thirty pieces of silver, a field called the field of blood.

Now to Luke's version in Acts: Acts 1:16-20
16 “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the book of Psalms,
    ‘Let his homestead become desolate,
        and let there be no one to live in it’;
  ‘Let another take his position of overseer.’
This is an interesting and surprisingly different account of the death of Judas.  First, Judas feels no remorse.  Second, there are no thirty pieces of silver.  Judas is not hanged, but rather, falls headlong and just bursts open, spilling his guts.  Finally, there is a field of blood, but it is bought by Judas, not by the priests.  Luke's version also claims fulfillment of scripture, but he draws on the Psalms (69; 109) not Zechariah.

But, there are similarities.  In both Judas dies a violent death (hanging/bursting), both make reference to a field.

Now, lets take a look at the third account from Papias (Warning, very gruesome verbal imagery is used in this text).
Judas was a terrible, walking example of ungodliness in this world, his flesh so bloated that he was not able to pass through a place where a wagon passes easily, not even his bloated head by itself. For his eyelids, they say, were so swollen that he could not see the light at all, and his eyes could not be seen, even by a doctor using an optical instrument, so far had they sunk below the outer surface. His genitals appeared more loathsome and larger than anyone else’s, and when he relieved himself there passed through it pus and worms from every part of his body, much to his shame. After much agony and punishment, they say, he finally died in his own place, and because of the stench the area is deserted and uninhabitable even now; in fact, to this day no one can pass that place unless they hold their nose, so great was the discharge from his body and so far did it spread over the ground.
Similarities: Judas has his own place (field), he dies a violent death. Besides those similarities, the accounts are strikingly different.  Judas does not die right away, but becomes a living example of his ungodliness.  He gets bloated like a balloon, he cannot see, his body appears to be beginning to decay even while he lives.

So, the question for today, which death of Judas is most fitting?

While on the topic of Judas, check out this U2 video "Until the End of the World." The lyrics make sense if you realize the song was written from the perspective of Judas.


Monday, November 8, 2010

The Ending of Acts

I have argued elsewhere about the open or suspended ending of the gospel of Mark, and here I would like to make note of a few interesting aspects of the open ending of Acts.

An open ending is one that needs to be completed by the audience, i.e., not all things are resolved, or relevant details are left out.  Here is how the book of Acts ends:
 Acts 28:30-31: He [Paul] lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. 
What? This is what the entire narrative has been building toward?  Seems a little bit anticlimactic.  The book of Acts, like the Gospel of Luke, had a section of building tension.  In Acts, Paul, like Jesus in Luke, sets his face to Jerusalem, knowing that he is facing persecution there.  In Acts 20 Paul, speaking to the Ephesian elders says:
Acts 20:22-23: And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. 
Like Jesus in Luke, Paul travels to Jerusalem, undergoing several trials, and finally appealing to the Emperor in Rome.  The reader of Acts, who has most likely also read Luke, sees the parallels and is expecting similar results.  Yet, there is no satisfaction of these expectations.  Paul gets to Rome, and then, ugh, anti-climax.  Nothing happens.  It says he lives there two years teaching about Jesus. What gives.

Christian tradition has Paul being executed in Rome under the reign of Nero in the mid 60s.  Luke, writing 20-30 years after this event was certainly aware of Paul's death.  Even the audience of Acts was likely aware of Paul's death.  So, why not narrate it?  Why leave the audience hanging?

One reason is theological.  The book of Acts, imho, is not about Paul, or Peter, or Stephen, or Philip.  It is not about a person, or even a group of persons, the apostles. It is about God's work continuing work in the church.  By leaving this story open, it makes a profound statement about the fact that this story does not end with the death of Paul, or any other apostle for that matter.  This story is still going on.  There are still those who are "witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

Happy Guy Fawkes day!

To those who don't know what Guy Fawkes day is, November 5th commemorates the the day in 1606 which Guy Fawkes tried to blow up London's Parliament building.  Of course, this holiday means little to me in America, but just the fact that one of the most amazing movies of the past five years, V for Vendetta, also commemorates this event is enough for me.

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Check out this amazing video, one of the best film monologues in a long time, not least because of its use of the figure of speech alitteration. 

HT to Peter Pope at Magnificent Vista for the poem and video.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Why do I blog?

At the beginning of this last Summer I thought blogs were stupid.  The only exposure I had to blogs was a friend of mine in Seminary who had a blog.  It was just a live journal, a way for him to keep his family and friends updated on what he was doing.  He would add pictures, videos, journal updates, etc.  It seemed fairly narcissistic at the time and I could not envision myself doing such a project.

Then, when I met my wife, she also had a blog, but did not encourage me to read it.  It seemed also to be of a more personal nature.  Then, early this last Summer, Brooke started to show some frustration that I had not really paid much attention to her blog.  So, I started reading her blog, as well as looking for other blogs that I might be interested in.  Little did I know that there was a whole world out there of interesting reading and conversation going on, especially in my field of biblical studies.  I had no idea there was a whole biblioblogging community (see the top 50 biblioblog list here).  I found several blogs that were continually grabbing my attention (see my blog roll for blogs that I read on a regular basis). I thought to myself, wow, I could do that, in fact, it could be quite interesting.  So, I decided to start a blog.

I have three main reasons that I blog. 

1) Writing practice:  In my field of biblical studies, writing is a necessity.  Writing well is even better.  Writing well about your topic is the best.  Therefore, I use this blog as writing practice.  I try and write a bit each day, forcing myself to do so, just to make sure that I am constantly working on my writing.

2) Interaction with students: I wanted there to be a place where my students could go to interact with me outside of the classroom.  I also wanted a place where conversations about class material could be discussed in more detail than is possible in class.  So far, this goal has worked fairly well, although, giving the carrot of a little extra credit for blog comments is a help, I am sure.

3) Self promotion in my field: blogging, as I mentioned before, is becoming an important medium through which ideas travel, especially in the biblioblogging community.  I use this blog to throw out some of my ideas and research in an attempt to get my name out there in my field.  As someone like myself, looking for a teaching job, everything I can do to get my ideas and research out there is a plus.

So, that is why I blog.  How about you?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Don Juel the Tearing of the Heavens in Mark

The late Don Juel, in one of my favorite books on the Gospel of Mark, argues that there is an inclusio to the whole book.  An inclusio is a verbal bookend, a verbal cue coming at the beginning and ending of a text that was meant to be read aloud.  The bookend usually becomes a way to interpret the text in between.

Juel's proposed inclusio comes in chapters 1 and  15 with the terms "Tearing" and "Son of God."

At Jesus' baptism, after he comes out of the water, Mark writes that the heavens were being torn open (σχιζομένους, schizomenous) followed by a proclamation by the voice from heaven that Jesus was the Son of God.  Then, in the crucifixion scene, immediately after Jesus breathes his last, the Temple veil was torn in two (ἐσχίσθη, eschisthe) followed by the proclamation by the Centurion that Jesus was the Son of God.

Juel writes the following on the significance of this tearing of both the heavens and the Temple veil:
"What does the tearing mean? It may mean, as interpreted in the Letter to the Hebrews (esp. chapters 9-10), that we now have access to God: We can "have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus" (Heb. 10:19).  Viewed from another perspective, the image may suggest that the protecting barriers are gone and that God, unwilling to be confined to sacred spaces, is on the loose in our own realm.  If characters in the story find Jesus' ministry threatening, then they may have good reason.  The imagery has enormous power to shape imagination and to open readers to the story.  That is, Mark's narrative is about the intrusion of God into a world that has become alien territory -- An intrusion that means both life and death." (Donald Juel, A Master of Surprise, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 35-36), 35-36.)
 I love the thought of summing up the gospel of Mark with the phrase, "God is on the loose."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Some things you might have missed!

In reading through the passion narratives in the four gospels, it is interesting to note some things that are often overlooked.  If you have spent much time in church, you probably are familiar with the general story: Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, riding on a donkey and is received by a triumphant parade.  He cleanses the temple, prays in the Garden, is arrested, tried, convicted, and crucified.  Yet, as in all narrative, the devil is in the details.  Here are a couple of things you might have missed, yet are fascinating in their own right.

How many donkey's does Jesus ride into Jerusalem on? In Mark and Luke, Jesus instructs his disciples to go and get him a colt that had never been ridden.  They do so, and put him on the colt, and he rides triumphantly into Jerusalem.  Yet, in Matthew's gospel, Jesus instructs them to get two donkeys, or more precisely, a donkey, and a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Matthew 21:7 reads:
they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.
I actually found this picture which depicts Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey, AND on a colt.  It makes for a strange picture, Jesus riding into Jerusalem on two animals.  No wonder it is rare to see the image depicted this way.  Now, surely Matthew is doing this to conform to Zechariah 9:9, the end of which reads:
Lo, your king comes to you;
        triumphant and victorious is he,
    humble and riding on a donkey,
        on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
 Now, Matthew is supposed to be the most Jewish of the gospel writers. How then is he ignorant of the Hebrew poetry in Zechariah and how does he miss the obvious parallelism and instead weave a literal two donkeys into his narrative?  Food for thought.

The next strange passage also comes from Matthew.  Read what happens right after Jesus dies in Matthew's gospel (27:51-53):
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.  The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 
In Matthew, Jesus' death brings about a sort of ancient night of the living dead, apparently without all of the gruesome blood and death.  I couldn't even find a picture depicting this scene in Matthew.  So, what do you think is going on here.  I would love comments. 

Monday, November 1, 2010

What does it take to believe?

What does it take to believe in Baylor football?

That is a good question.  Does 7-2, BCS rank 21, a win in Austin?  Do I believe?

I must say, my belief is tough to win.  I have been hurt too many times.  There have been too many seasons where the only comforting thought is "well, there's always next season."  I remember watching the UNLV defensive back returning a fumble for 99 yards on the last play of the game to rob Baylor of one of their few wins over the past 14 seasons in the Big XII.  I remember getting trounced repeatedly by Texas, Oklahoma, A&M, Tech, and others.  I remember years where we messed up the pre-conference schedule so bad that even 3 Big XII wins were not enough for a bowl bid. 

Even in Baylor's last two games, I was almost expecting something bad to happen.  Even when we were up by 19 on K-State in the fourth quarter, I remember thinking that we would implode.  Even up by 11 in the fourth quarter on Texas, I was expecting a huge turnaround.  I wasn't expecting to be the team holding all the cards and having all the plays go their way.  I certainly wasn't expecting Texas to fumble the ball on what turned out to be their final play of the game.  More appropriate to recent Baylor history would be a missed tackle and a long touchdown run after catch.  I have seen it too many times.

Yet, this team is giving me reasons to believe.  Aside from our 45-10 drubbing by TCU in week three, this team has played great.  We have not been blown out at all, in fact, our one other loss was only by seven to Tech.  Our offense is amazing, and our defense is getting it done when it matters.  We are winning games on the road in hostile environments.  Briles really has turned this team around.  We are going bowling.  I love it.

So, do I believe?  Well, lets say I am half-way there.  Do I think we can win all three remaining games?  I believe we have a chance.  Do I think we will?  No, but, I also thought we would lose to K-State and to Texas.  So, go ahead Baylor, prove me wrong.  I dare you.  I double-dog dare you!

Rise Up!